Top 15 Favourite Fighting Games news and rules

Heya faithful readers,
Just thought I would drop a line and let you know what’s in the pipes right now. I am currently working on my "Top 15 Favourite Fighting Games". I already have my 15 Fighting Games chosen, but not quite ranked yet. I have a general idea of whether they are in the 15-11 tier, 10-6 tier, or 5-1 tier, but specifics aren't quite set in stone just yet.

Some rules that I have on this Top 15, and for the most part any of my Top 10 lists I'll explain now. I only allow one game per franchise/series, that way lists won't be clogged by ostensibly the same title over and over again. The same goes for movie lists, when I came up with my "Top 30 Favourite Movies" list I had only one film per director. That was to help me avoid a list full of Tarantino or Miyazaki movies which would result in a boring list. (By the way you can check out the list here: Top 30 Favourite Films [it starts at #1, sorry about that]).

 For instance, I personally get really annoyed when I read something like "Top 10 RPGs" and the list looks like this:

1) Final Fantasy 7
2) Final Fantasy 6
3) Super Mario RPG
4) Final Fantasy 9
5) Final Fantasy 8
6) Final Fantasy 12
7) Secret of Mana
8) Final Fantasy 10
9) Final Fantasy Tactics
10) Final Fantasy 13

That really pisses me off, so I won't ever do that. I will only choose one title from a series that I feel represents them all the best, or more often, which one I like better than the rest, whatever the reason. A variety of games is the best way to represent a genre, not just a single franchise.

Now as for my "Top 15 Favourite Fighting Games" list, I always make it a point to say "Favourite" because this is my list of favourite fighters that I had the most fun playing or the fondest memories of. It doesn't mean the most technical or the best designed fighting game. Now I won't spoil any of my choices now, but I will tell you what games didn't make the list. I'll try and explain my reasons as best I can, and of course I couldn't have played every fighter ever made, so I'm limited also to my own personal experience.

-Any Mortal Kombat game, as I feel their character design was always tepid and borderline racist, their gore gimmick has no bearing on gameplay, and the fighting was stiff and boring. I just never liked them. Sure the most recent one has officially set the standard for how single player stories should be done in fighting games, but that still isn't a strong enough reason to get it on the list.

-Any King of Fighters game. I personally think that if it wasn't for the massive rosters, this game would have never been noticed. And a huge roster alone isn't enough when most of the characters are clones or just plain forgettable. Sure Smash Bros has a huge roster, but for the most part all of their characters are memorable, whereas KoF characters are silly and suffer from being too normal or too over the top. Stiff controls don't help.

- Any Battle Arena Toshinden game. Because they were never that good to begin with, let’s face it.

- Any Dead or Alive game. I have nothing against "jiggle physics," but I do have something against martial artists who look ridiculous when they fight. These characters launch themselves forward all look so similar to me, that it feels like they all studied at the "whirling kicks" school of martial arts. It always appears that these fighters twist their lower halves completely around without their top halves ever moving at all (except for the breasts of course [cause those things go anywhere they want]).

- Any Guilty Gear game. Tragically, I simply haven’t played any of them for more than a few matches and never against someone. The character design in this game embraces the absurdity and I think its stellar, as is the music and frenetic 2d combat. Sadly, I simply don’t know enough about this game/series to put it on the list. This would certainly be an Honorable Mention even with the small time I’ve spent with it.

- Any Dragonball Z game. Rarely have I ever seen a game so poorly balanced as nearly every franchise in this series. Add to it the character design which sometimes makes me a little embarrassed to have held a torch for this show as hard as I did in my youth. Add to that all of the energy blasts which make every character feel the same, and bland environments and music don’t help.

  - Any Bloody Roar game. I would want to give this an Honorable Mention as being one of the more memorable fighters that didn’t really survive the 32-bit era. It featured a well rounded cast of characters and Tekken-esque controls, and the gimmick was that each character had an animal form they could enter as a super mode. It was memorable for the time but faded into obscurity pretty quickly.

 - Erghiez. This game was famous for having some of the cast of Final Fantasy 7 in it, as well as some of the worst controls on the PSone! The novelty of playing as Cloud Strife wasn’t enough to rescue this game. I can appreciate the single player dungeon crawler campaign they included, but again, the controls were so bad I couldn’t put this anywhere on my list.

  That’s it for now, lest my choices be made any more obvious. If you have any fighting games I should include, or reconsider, please leave them in the comments section. And as always, thanks for reading!

Salutations Earthlings

Life can be a lot like a laundry basket. It can be messy. It can be empty. And sometimes it can be full of clean laundry that you’re too lazy to fold and put away right away so they all just wind up staying in the basket and by the time you remember and pull them all out they are wrinkly and creased up all funny. This metaphor really got away from me… What I’m trying to say is, “do your laundry.”

There’s been an obvious gap in between posts recently, because most of my online contributions have been going to a gaming blog called The Scrub Daily! I’ll be linking some of the work I’ve done for them in the coming days, while trying to make special content for those of you who follow my blog. All four of you.

Now for some shameless self promotion. Be sure to check out my latest article at The Scrub Daily here: Road Scuffler Diaries.

There will of course still be video game related stuff as per usual, reviews of stuff and things, and with the help my very first ever smart phone I plan to record videos of me talking into the empty void that is the internet. Who knows someone might even hear me!

In the mean time while, watch me eat a taco. Enjoy!

Gotham City Imposters goes Free-to-Play on PC

The rumors have been confirmed this week in a recent press release from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, as they have officially announced that Gotham City Imposters is now Free-to-Play on Steam.

Those who download the game via Steam will have access to the full game for free, as well as downloadable content previously released as DLC. Bonuses include new maps, weapons, and mascots just to name a few. Unfortunately the PS3 and Xbox Live Arcade versions of the game are still available for those willing to pay for them. But perhaps if WBIE sees the influx of gamers willing to play the game, they might be keen to adapting a F2P model on consoles as well.

For the uninitiated, Gotham City Imposters is an online multiplayer combat game, centered on two teams vying for dominance over the streets of Gotham City. One group fighting in the name of justice have donned makeshift Batman costumes, and the other fighting in the name of chaos have put on Joker makeup. Its very similar to Team Fortress 2 (also F2P on Steam) and can be really addicting with the right group of players. This is a great nod to the Batman mythos as well, so DC fans will get a humorous kick out of this game. Thos looking for a new game to compete against others in, while maintain a great degree of character costume customization will have a lot to look forward to.


Comic Book Movie Roundup

It has been awhile, perhaps even, too long. So let’s go ahead and make some assertions.

This has been an unparalled year for Comic Book movies.  With The Avengers kicking asses worldwide, and perhaps laying the groundwork for long term continuity in movies, its an exciting prospect to think there may actually be another Avengers movie with Wolverine, Red Hulk, and Black Panther all onscreen fighting villains at the same time.
The Amazing Spider Man, I personally felt, was another resounding success and proved to be a great deal of fun to watch in the cinema. I’m more than willing to let the plot contrivances and poorly developed villain go ignored in lieu of a charming protagonist,  spectacular special effects, and a female protagonist that actually does something any day! This has got to be the benchmark for Spider Man movies, as he has never moved more fluidly in costume while retaining the wit that defines the character.

I recently learned, much to my dismay, that the odds of Spidey in an Avengers movie will not be happening anytime soon, as the Spidey film rights are owned by Sony, and the rest of Marvels catalouge is now owned by Disney. Which absolutly breaks my heart because one of the best team up in comic history has to be Spider Man and Wolverine. If you haven't read Jason Aaron's recent "Astonishing Spider Man and Wolverine" mini series that come out last year, it is a spectacular read. I couldn't fathom seeing Hugh Jackman and Andrew Garfield on the big screen, in costume, trading witty banter while beating down a bar full of lame costumed thugs.
A Batman Beyond movie? Sign me up.

Lastly is Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, which was also the film I saw most recently so it’s freshest in my mind. It was a great movie for just the sheer scale and spectacle of it, and it did a wonderful job of tying together to the first film to make it feel like an actual trilogy. Although it really was a Bruce Wayne movie, and not a Batman movie, hell I’d even say it was more of a Bain movie really. And Tom Hardy kicks so many asses as Bain that he had me talking in that strange “wise psychopath” accent for a whole week. He was just so fun to see onscreen and, like in all the other Batman movies, I was rooting for the villain the entire time. Well up until he let all the prison inmates go and gave them all AK-47s… there’s some flaws in his logic on that one. Also Catwoman was absolutely awesome and did a great job standing her own and not falling into sidekick territory.  This movie however, at 3 hours, is not one I plan to see again any time soon because it is far too long and far too serious and a bit on the cerebral side for me. After The Avengers and The Amazing Spiderman, I prefer my comic book movies to be more fun than intense.

But perhaps it was just Nolan’s direction towards the end, because it really felt like Batman was suffering from “Inception Syndrome,” as I’m taking to calling it. Essentially where there are so many ticking clocks at once that it keeps pulling you closer towards the edge of your seat, until you just can’t take the suspense and burn out, slumping back into your chair (bad posture and all) until the climax of the film resolves itself without you. I say “Inception Syndrome” both because it was also directed by Nolan (with a lot of the same cast members too) as well as the ticking clocks, but in that movie it was perfectly crafted to fit into the conceit of that universe. In Batman, there was so many ticking clocks that you just stop caring about how it turns out because they keep pulling the rug out from underneath you, you just start to prefer to stay down. There is one master clock that’s ticking over all of them, and it keeps getting stopped and restarted, that when mixed in with the other ticking clocks, it starts to feel like the start of a Pink Floyd song and you just sit back and wait for the song to start, in this case, the end credits.

Which brings me to my one big complaint of Batman, and perhaps the thing which prevented me from wanting to see it again, where three things all tied around the ending. These are going to be SPOLIERS so if you haven’t seen film I suggest watching it first then coming back to see if you agree with me (or not [but why wouldn’t you?]). The first being Detective Blake being told to go by his birth name of “Robin.” This was written into the movie for the dumbest of audience members, and should have really been left out, or instead of Robin it should have been Dick Grayson, or Tim Drake, or fucking Clark Kent I don’t care, just something not THAT obvious!

The second major gripe from me being the final few seconds of the movie that involve showing Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle being spotted by Alfred. This would have been a thousand times more affective of a scene if they didn’t show Bruce Wayne. Instead, they should have had Alfred enter the scene, sit at the table, order his tea, and stare right into the camera, have a smile of realization spread across his face, and cut to black, roll credits. But beating it over the audience’s head that he survived is just excruciating.

The third, final, and most egregious flaw of this movies ending was the sendoff that Bain received. He didn’t get the awesome death he deserved, instead he just got shot by an off-screen cannon and forgotten about. I truly feel that Bain could have survived that, somehow, someway, he should have limped his way out of the rubble and kept on kicking ass. Or got double teamed by Batface and Catlady until they removed his masked and he suffocated. Or better yet have Bain get Batman in a full nelson headlock, and Talia try to run a sword through them both, only to have KittyPants save BatMouse at the last second so that Talia runs thru Bain on accident. Something, anything more poetic would have been better than just getting shot by a big gun and forgotten about for the rest of the film.

So that’s my rundown of summer comic book movies. I really enjoyed this trio of summer comic flicks and I highly recommend that everyone go out and see them if they are still playing in a theater near you. I haven’t seen the latest Ghost Rider but I’m sure that’s alright. I tried watching the Green Lantern movie, and the CGI was so distracting that I couldn’t get very far. Also congrats to that films writing staff for making the most unlikable protagonist in record time. Just a few minutes in and I was hard pressed to find another protagonist that had me on their bad side that quickly.

Studio Liverpool closes its doors

1993 - 2012
Like so many other ill fated games companies, Studio Liverpool is no longer with us, as a few days ago it was announced that SONY would be closing its UK branch known as Studio Liverpool. Known for its seminal series Wipeout and also Colony Wars, this studio will be closing its doors for good. SONY has announced its plans to refocus energy and resources in other studios that are more commercially successful.

SCE Worldwide performs reviews of its studios on a regular basis, and claimed that the decision to close Studio Liverpool came after its most recent evaluation. Sandy Lobban, a developer at Studio Liverpool, said via Twitter:

“End of an era today for Studio Liverpool. Honoured to have been a part of it.”

Psygonsis seems like so long ago

Studio Liverpool started off as Psygonsis in 1984, and I personally happen to have a ton of their games by pure coincidence growing up. I spent days on Destruction Derby and Blast Radius as a kid, and the polygonal magic of the Playstation wasn’t lost on me. Then in 1995 I got my hands on Wipeout and I was never the same. I’d never felt such speed mixed with incredible music, and the science fiction aesthetic never failed to blow my mind. I still play Wipeout on my PS3 all the time and I’ve never played a more exciting racing game in my life.

I still have a clear memory of hiding my PSP behind my textbook in a college classroom, to play Wipeout Pure. I was on the final race of a tournament and somehow went from first place to last. The resulting tragedy of my loss made me shout, “Damn it!” And it didn’t occur to me that I was in class until I saw everyone turning around to stare at me. I personally mourn the loss of Studio Liverpool, and sincerely hope they are able to some how keep the Wipeout franchise alive.

End of an era indeed.

Source: Eurogamer

Gaming Parlance: Nuke

I’ve been noticing more and more how gaming terminology is normalizing things that should otherwise be very extreme or grotesque. One term I recently noticed was “nuke”, which is a common phrase in the MMORPG genre. It essentially means to do as much damage to a target as possible as fast as you can. Typically there are certain characters, classes, or playstyles which enable you to “nuke,” most commonly they are mages or long ranged skills/spells.

Nuking is something that comes into play after proper defenses are setup to ensure that the people doing the “nuking” are safe to dish out as much damage as possible. That is because of “agro” is built up for the person doing the damage, which makes them the target of the enemies ire, and “nuking” classes aren’t known for their vitality or resilience.

So now that you know how “nuke” (or “nuking”) is used in the gaming parlance, I’d like to discuss how the term is coming off in my eyes (or ears). A nuke is short for nuclear bomb, which isn’t something people go throwing around much these days. The two dropped in Japan during World War II killed well over 200,000 people. If you haven’t seen Barefoot Gen, it is a powerful piece of animation that was inspired by those ghastly events.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not the type to say we should never use the term “nuke” out of respect for the dead. Nuclear bombs are a main source of tension in the international community. Both countries that “can’t be trusted” with them , and the fact that the U.S. still has a massive stockpile of them “just in case” is something very real that people should remember.

At the end of the day I'm just getting older and things like this are jumping out at me. I love gaming and hate how polarizing the gaming community can be. Ultimately this is a drop in the bucket, in terms of things gamers do that belittle the medium they love, but I just can't help but hear that phrase for what it is, not for how they mean it.

Depreciated to Appreciated: Conan

With many graduates emerging from high school and universities this summer, and the job market being as rough as it is, it can be hard for gamers to keep up with the bevy of new titles that have come out this year. So for those starving students, thrifty thinkers, or just plain cheap chaps, I humbly present to you some decent games at fair prices to help you out this summer.

Conan for the Xbox 360 and PS3 is a decent beat em up that is far from perfect, but its age means that it should only cost you a few dollars. And with the best XBL/PSN games costing up to $20, this is an example of an older game that’s arguably a better deal. Ironically, Conan looks and feels like an XBL/PSN title too.
You take control of everyone's favorite Cimmerian, Conan, as he hacks through man and beast alike, cleaving his way to glory. The story is pretty terrible, as Conan chases down the scattered pieces of his armor while putting a stop to an evil sorcerer, curing a corrupting plague, and rescuing beautiful topless maidens, but it all comes off like Conan is doing homework at the last minute. The cutscenes are poorly illustrated and focus more on the female protagonist than Conan unfortunately. A part of me wants to warn you that this game features women with exposed breasts, but that feels hypocritical without mentioning the amounts of dismembered limbs and decapitated heads that you'll will be buried under. There is a narrative plot twist at the very end that anyone who’s half-awake could see coming a mile away, and it adds nothing to the actual story immersion.

The facial features on Conan are decent but he rarely emotes enough, and Ron Perlman is absolutely wasted with emotionless delivery. The graphics aren't anything to write home about either, and are pretty dated and can get glitchy at times. Glitches that don't freeze your game have always been kind of charming to me, and seeing a fallen enemy spazing about on the floor, or stuck inside your character whilst flailing about wildly have always made me burst into laughter. If you find glitches like these funny than you may enjoy them when they inevitably occur during your play through. If you go into it with a grain of salt and an eye for the comically bad, than the visuals can be pretty entertaining, similar to watching a bad movie for the cheesy special effects! 
Conan utilizes three fighting styles: sword and shield, dual swords, and a two handed sword. They all provide similar methods of handling enemies in groups or one-on-one. Regardless of the method you choose, they are all more than capable of decimating anything the game throws against you, and you are pretty free to switch between them at any time. The game isn't that difficult, but some enemy types can be a little cheap, with the lions and giant gorillas being notably annoying. These two are enemies that have uninterruptable attacks and can soak up more damage than should be reasonable. But even still, it’s nothing that good old fashioned blocking and stick-and-move tactics can't solve.

The gameplay is the only major catch here, as this game will only appeal to people who enjoy beat em up or hack n slash games.  The ride is rather short also, clocking in at around four or five hours. There is a harder difficulty you can unlock, but it also comes with unlockable invincibility, making that playthrough even faster if you decide to use it. But if hacking waves of generic villains sounds like a brainless good time, and it certainly does to me, then this game may be right for you. Check it out if you can find it for $5 or less, and that shouldn’t be too hard. Trust me, it'll be worth nearly every penny.

They just don't make them like they used to

I happen to live in Southern California, and most of my neighbors come directly from Mexico. I am first generation American, from a Nicaraguan family. The cultural tastes are very different between the two. Even around my friends  I often find myself the only person with mildly tropical musical tastes. Around my particular neighborhood, the Ranchero music seems to be on non stop, and its indicative of a more rural/farmland/country style musically. I simply can't stand it, but only because I have never developed a taste for country music. It's just not what people listen to where I'm from. 
The music I grew up with was more orchestral, a latin big band of sorts. Its called Salsa, and I can't help but have an appreciation for it because I pretty much grew up listening to it everyday. It's lyrically playful and musically complex and if you have an ear that can sort out all the different instruments working together it's hard not to marvel at it. Despite being the first American born citizen in my family, I still notice the roots dug deep into my ears from time to time. I wonder if it's called Salsa because it is a mix of many instruments and styles intended to get people on the dance floor, and keep them there. 
After being bombarded by country music on either side of my house, there are days like today where I just have to remind myself of what I recall fondly as Latin music. I may be posting more songs on here in the future if the mood strikes me, and it probably will. Here's another one for the road.

Defeat at the Game of Thrones (PC)

With the finale of season 2 now behind us, I figured I could post something related to Game of Thrones while it was topical. However while I was attempting to review the newly released Game of Thrones video game that just came out for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360, I simply could not bring myself to finish it properly. What follows is a meager attempt at describing my brief, and frustrating experience with the game.

The first thing I noticed about the game was the use of licensed music, and while the game loads up you can hear the opening theme of the show playing in the background. This is a great change of pace, as anyone who commonly plays licensed games knows that music is what never makes it into the game. Although the score is nice and reminiscent of the show, the same can't be said for everything else.

This is one ugly game. The opening cut scene features one of the two protagonists, named Mors, hunting down a deserter from the Black Watch. After cornering his prey, Mors kills his target for abandoning his oath and running away from his post along the wall. Mors has a hound companion as well, but it feels entirely tacked on to make the game look more like Dragon Age or Fable. The dog is utterly uninspired. Unless there is a plot twist later on about how the beast turns into the new king of Westeros, it didn't need to be featured in the game at all. Worse yet, the dog is one of the most hideous character models I've ever seen in a game! We're talking Duke Nukem forever bad. The line that runs across the center of the dogs character model, where the skin is flipped on both sides, is so thick and dominant that it destroys any sense of realism. The jerky animations are rough and unavoidable. Just seeing the dog in this opening scene made me cringe, and set an unintentionally sad tone. 

The game strives for the similar grittiness of the show, with Castle Black being full on muddy and bleak, and while I can appreciate the authenticity of the representation, it left my eyes painfully lost. Everything was so dark and dirty that no matter where I went everything looked the same. Regardless of the building I went in, the interiors all felt the exact same. Static NPCs don't help things either, with lines of dialogue being repeated to themselves ad nauseum. The few NPCs that were assigned to my group looked pretty much identical, save for their weapon of choice. And although they had very contrasting personalities, they just flat out looked like the same person. Despite this, the design of the costumes and armor are great and seem like they would fit right in with the show. However, the faces are lip synced so roughly that they seem a bit muppety, if you will, and it causes this game to fall so hard into the uncanny valley that it reminds me of a Wile E Coyote cartoon, its that comical.

I honestly try and not let graphics carry to much weight in my opinion, as I understand that smaller developers don't have the resources to create spectacular graphics. And I prefer stylized and bright colors over gritty realism. Jet Set Radio looks 100 times better than Modern Warfare 3 in my opinion. But if you are striving for realism, and your game designers don't have the ability to make it look good, then you should go for a more stylized look instead. Would the feel of Game of Thrones really been tarnished had they gone for an animated style instead? It might have looked just as awesome in a different way.
There was some enjoyable dialog, which brings me to the writing. The conversations didn't bring anything new to the table, gameplay wise, but talking to people in an RPG isn't a broke system so it's fine. So far, what little I've experienced was well scripted and the story seemed interesting. From what I understand it involves new characters and a few new locations to tell a story that takes place in the Game of Thrones setting we all know and love. This turned off a lot of people, because they wanted to play as the characters from the show, but I personally had no problem with this. Having the characters from the show be playable in an RPG means plenty of room to get them wrong, and that isn't such an issue with brand new characters that we can more easily project ourselves into.

Sadly I couldn't get to most of the story, as my patience with this game was being crushed by pretty much every other angle. The greatest source of frustration, and the real reason I quit playing this game, was the camera. Specifically the camera control. Holding right click enables the player to grab the camera and turn it to face the character in that direction. However even the slightest twitch of your wrist send the camera spiraling into the stratosphere. I had to turn the mouse sensitivity all the way down and it was still unruly. To make matters worse, the camera is located in this strange position that makes the characters cloak take up most of the center of the screen. "Why don't you just zoom out?" you may be asking, well that's not an option. During combat the camera focuses on whoever you are targeting, but after that target dies it seems to choose your next target randomly, creating some unintended chaos. Perhaps its the version of the game that I had, but the camera is what did my head in.

Another huge factor in making me pull my hair out was how damn precise you have to be with your mouse clicks. I have to imagine this isn't as much of an issue on the console versions of this game (I hope), but where they want you to click is incredibly small and demands precision. If an enemy drops loot, you can't click on the sparkling pouch that's on the floor, but instead you have to click on the item icon that floats above it. During combat, when using your mouse to select different targets, you can't click on circle that appears around the enemies feet, but in some weird unspecified space somewhere between their torso and knees. It's so incredibly frustrating that the few fights I was able to get in quickly eroded into automated disasters, where I gave up trying to choose my targets, and instead hoped the game would prioritize them for me because I stopped caring.

The same goes for navigating the menu system. You can't use traditional clicking to equip items or sort through character stats. The game forces you to figure out a new system of awkward double clicking to equip items and hovering over the last few letters in a skill to make the description pop up. All these things begin to add up quickly, and even an hour after character creation I was grinding my teeth into dust.
The character creation was a bit confusing, and I found the lack of a tutorial regarding skill point spending a bit disheartening. You are given a certain number of points to invest into different weapons and armors, but since you haven't played the game yet, tailoring a character to a play style you aren't quite sure you will like or understand, seems a bit unfair. There was a unique feature that I did appreciate, and it was having to choose your characters Strengths and Weaknesses. You are allowed to pick from a list of positive perks, but you must also have an equal number of negative perks to balance them out. However, it's hard to tell what will be useful to you thirty hours into the game. If you haven't been able to play the game, how will you know which perks are helpful and which are useless?

This goes for any game really, but if you are forced to invest points (that can't be reallocated later) then you should be informed of what the points will have an impact on. Without being taught this information in a clever and subtle way then its all for naught. The brilliant show Extra Credits put it best, the best tutorials don't feel like tutorials at all, and instead play like just another level of the game, despite teaching you how to do things and what they mean. This game seems to lack a character growth tutorial completely. 

The last thing I'm going to discuss about why the Game of Thrones video game defeated me, was the combat. It's essentially Knights of the Old republic without any of the fun. It is an active turn based flow of combat, with all the equations running behind the scenes. Pretty standard fair for recent console RPGs, also similar to Dragon Age, but handled far too plainly. You essentially only have a small handful of attacks that are all tragically unimpressive. Granted I haven't played very far, but from some of the gameplay footage I've seen from later stages of the game, it still seems painfully familiar. Without an array of spectacular moves, the combat looks boring and you just wind up looking at your cooldown meters waiting for your skills to reset, before recycling the same sequence of attacks over and over again. This is where the realism returns to hold the game back some more. The attacks are rarely things that couldn't actually be done in real life, but that makes them mundane and forgettable.

Game of Thrones could have been a good RPG, but as it stands now I feel that it falls just short of decent. I may try and go back to see if I can get through some more of this game in the future. Especially if they release a patch addressing the camera and mouse controls. If not, then this may be the last I say about Game of Thrones, as a video game anyway. To all you fans out there you're probably better off reading the books than playing this game.

Hopefully next summer, winter will finally come. ... Wait, what?

D-Day in video games

Today is the 68th anniversary of D day. On June 6th 1944, Operation Neptune saw the Allied invasion on the beaches of Normandy, and although the term "D-Day" has been used in military operations before, this is the best remembered instance. It has frequently been immortalized in various heartbreaking memorials, thorough documentaries, and cinematic blockbusters. In recent years, WWII has become a persistent setting in popular media, with video games naturally taking advantage of just how many real historical scenarios can be virtually recreated for players to experience.

World War II, as a setting, has been a staple in video games for many years now. There are over 50 first or third person shooter video games in the last twenty years. Easily over 100 titles if you count real time strategy and simulation games. From Medal of Honor in 1999, to Call of Duty: World at War in 2008, I have been taking part of digital recreations of World War II for most of my life.

The opening levels to most of these games usually take place on D day. They tend to follow the same intro scene from Saving Private Ryan. You're on a boat slowly wading towards the beach as machine guns open fire on you, killing the soldiers standing around you. You swim your way to shore and gather with a few survivors, working together to break thru Nazi defenses and take out the gun turrets to secure the beach for the remainder of the allied troops, but not before the whole place is littered with dead bodies.

I've played through this scenario numerous times across various different games, as I imagine numerous gamers have. For awhile it felt like I was storming the beaches anew every couple years on a newer console with better graphics and tighter controls. Eventually, however, the severity of what was going on seemed less like a recreation of a historical event, and more like another round of an annual paintball match. Despite the increasing graphical recreation and visual accuracy of the event, it seemed to lose some gravity with each playthrough. 

The more WWII games that are made, and each new generation of consoles is bound to have a handful, it feels like the severity of what happened on that day is lost in translation. This is perhaps due to over saturation or exposure. But is there a method of combating this desensitization? In my life, thus far, I have probably killed more than a million digital Nazi's. This is an estimation I can make about myself with a great degree of certainty, and I feel that most avid gamers could probably say the same. Is there a way of portraying events like D day, with a greater sense of dignity and respect?

I'm not saying that a game like Call of Duty World at War utterly fails to do this, because they did a decent job, but the game doesn't exactly succeed either. As a game, its great. Fun FPS gameplay, the set pieces are engaging, and most importantly the controls are tight. As a way of telling the struggles of WWII though, I didn't come away with anything. The most memorable part of the game was when you had to fend off zombies!

Often times I've racked my brain about how historical reenactments should be handled in games and its not an easy task. Perhaps including short documentary style vignettes telling about the scenario you just played through, or a biography segment about the actual person you played as, might go a long way towards making a connection between gamers and the war they are taking part in. Or including unlockable war footage and photographs, complete in their brutality and tragedy. I've often wished for a sort of epilogue after a games final level, where the player gets to walk around the National World War II Memorial or the Cemetery at Colleville. And while the credits of the game scroll on the side, they are free to inspect the names on gravestones, or of the Freedom Wall.

Most gamers don't want to be lectured or force fed pedagogically during their entertainment, and I understand that. But I wonder if they should have a choice, at least when it comes to taking part in a real war which cost real people their very real lives.  

First Person Polluter

A short Documentary about the perilous state of online gaming today. I was on of the people who worked on this film, and I was the writer and narrator. Please enjoy.

Skyrim Video Game Review

Winner of several Game of the Year awards for 2011, I finally got to spend some quality time with Skyrim recently and I have to say I understand the hype. Granted, I have a serious inclination towards fantasy games and open world adventures, so this latest entry in the franchise already holds a very special place in my heart.

Sightplay - The graphics aren't anything to write home about. Some of the textures can look pretty ugly when closely inspected, but when I take the scale of what's presented on screen, especially outdoors, it can be positively breathtaking. For as in depth as the customization is during creating your characters face, messing about with stupefying amount of sliders seems inconsequential when you'll probably have your head buried underneath a helmet or cowl for most of the game anyway. Despite the lack of peak graphical integrity, it’s the design and aesthetics that do a wonderful job of crafting the sense of place that you are inhabiting. The Viking inspired culture mixed with classic fantasy archetypes are executed without fail, and the land truly seems alive. Sure the people you talk to might bend their neck impossibly when speaking to you. Or they might turn to face you while sharpening a sword on a grindstone, a dangerous way to conduct business. Or if you've played the game for a few hours, have seen some of the numerous (and often hilarious) glitches that take place. Even the visual errors seem to have a charm that make them amusing, rather than annoying. Maybe it’s my weakness for fantasy epics... and silly memes.

The adventuring visuals are spectacular. Monsters look deadly, animals look wild, and most importantly dragons look pretty badass. Even if you take cover from their roaring dragon breath behind a few twigs and use it as cover to whittle them down, completely shattering the sense of immersion in order to metagame (most certainly not a crime), and it still looks awesome. Magic looks properly mystical and ancient places feel as aged as they seem. I'd say this game is engaging visually, but not in the same way that something vibrant and colorful makes your brain feel electric, like Jet Set Radio. It’s more engaging in a kind of visual simmering sort of way. You begin to accept what you see on screen with a sense of cohesion that actually feels like a next generation effort. 

Soundplay - The main theme to Skyrim has got to be one of the most memorable songs in video game history, and like the Game of Thrones intro song, seem to embody a true sense of fantasy that pulls you right in. The sound of weapons being readied, the sound of blows bouncing off shields, and especially the way magic spells sound when being cast all sound phenomenal. Unfortunately there is the same issue in Skyrim as in Fallout and Oblivion, that there are only so many voice actors to go around the vast amount of fleshed out NPCs. Even though its noticeable when these default voices carry over into numerous characters (sometimes to comedic effect), it is far from a deal breaker. Also I'd like to give a nod to the spells for sounding the way I imagine magic should sound.

Gameplay - The main half of this game is the adventuring you do out in the world. When you're out of the lively, but sometimes animatronic, cities it’s really the world you explore that highlights how fun the game can be. Like I said before I have a weakness for open ended gameplay that Bethesda is known to do quite well. It's simply how I prefer my video games to play out. It's the creatures you battle, the dragons you absorb, and the dungeons you clear that make this game a blast to play. It's rather tried and true if you've played Oblivion, and like in those entries the combat still feels rather familiar. Although you can more easily equip two things at once, magic included, the ranged combat still feels superior to the melee combat. Something about depth perception in the first person that just doesn't work well, but thankfully the game is well playable in the third person perspective (and its animated great too). First person combat is not simple to pull off, and yet Bethesda do it better than most.

The other half of this game is questing, and it's pretty damn near as fulfilling to me as a gamer, as the adventuring half of the game. To clarify what I mean by this, adventuring is when you're fighting the bad guys, questing is when you talk to people who hired you to kill the bad guys, and to explain to them that you killed their bad guys and are now demanding twice as much gold for the job (or you can do it for free maybe). It’s so well executed that it pulls you in and makes it feel like your interactions while questing matter more in Skyrim, than they would in most other games. The world is carefully crafted it shows the more you explore. Dragons are fun to fight against, and although a bit of cover from their breath makes them bosses you have to patiently whittle down, something about the mythos of it all makes it feel like a really epic encounter. The mod community for the PC version of Skyrim has, of course, already come out with some brilliant and hilarious new game additions to enhance the already wonderful experience.

Replay - Often times games struggle to provide even the most contrived plots, that sometimes they begin to blur into the same "make either: a)good karma choice. b)neutral karma choice. c) evil karma choice." Skyrim thankfully does not fall into that category of game, and you can play the game like that if the numerous quests don't tickle your fancy, speed running thru the dialogue if you choose to. To be honest it was the main story quests that I found to be the weakest overall. The two factions came off as unlikeable, and the endings weren't as numerous or interactive as they were in Fallout: New Vegas. However the game outside of that story line is positively massive and that's what I love about this style of gameplay.

Like other games of this ilk, it can be easily exploited and the leveling system seems to have a few design flaws that make metagamers (I raise my hand in occasional admission) froth at the mouth. Sure it’s easy to have a level 20 character in a few hours without much hassle, but it's avoidable. And even IF you glitch your way to the level cap, it would still take weeks to complete every quest, clear every dungeon, and kill every dragon (although they respawn).

Score - 5 out of 5. This game delivers, and in my opinion is some of the most fun I had with an RPG in a while. Perhaps it's the coincidental amount of pandering it felt like they were doing to me, because I loves me some open ended fantasy RPG goodness. If you have a fondness for this kind of setting, both story wise or gameplay wise, this is a title you simply cannot afford to miss.

Brink Video Game Review

Brink was a highly anticipated FPS that was going to inject the gaming market with a breath of fresh air, but when it came out that breath wound up smelling a bit foul. So foul in fact that a few months after the game had come out the price for a used copy dirt cheap. I was able to get my hands on a copy  awhile ago, so let's see why this game's lukewarm reception may have led to a cool new IP, turning into just another in a sea of mediocre FPS titles. 

Sightplay - Brink's visual presentation comes off as a rushed effort. One that's good, but if given more time to cook it could have been great. I find the peculiar dimensions that certain head and body shapes have to be really amusing, and the novelty never wears off. The amount of fun I had  customizing my characters was really high, playing the game wasn't even as fun as this (not a good sign), and having numerous different options felt more fulfilling than any myriad of sliders could. Do we really need control over the precise size of lips, or the exact angle and size of an eyebrow ridge? Brink does a better job of customization by abandoning sliders (there are still a few if you look for them) in lieu of having a seriously diverse amount of clothing and accessory options for each character. In that regards the visuals are top tier, where it falls apart is in the level design. Beyond being boring and labyrinthine at times, they're just plain boring. The same generic advertisements and posters littered throughout the levels lack any humor or wit. The actual architechture of the developed reigons are superb and everything looks futuristic, from a distance. Up close, however, the rough edges start to reveal themselves, and the completely underwhelming grenade explosions are something you simply can't unsee. 

Soundplay - The sound of the many different guns are wonderfully diverse, but only when you have the ability to test out each one in a quiet place. Amidst the chaos of battle, the gun sounds all blur together in an echo of muzzle flares that sound like one gun. Voice acting is decent in this game, and there's something about the way the English dialogue is spoken in various accents that makes it fun to hear. Unfortunately there aren't any solid characters to attribute a voice to. There are cutscenes of rebels sharing a last moment before heading into their certain deaths, and although the words sound sincere, they don't have any real impact because we know nothing about the people saying them! Is it his first day on the job, last day before retirement, third Tuesday after the day before comic book day? Something, anything!? Also there's music, but there doesn't feel to be anything too worthy of noting in that department sadly.
Look familiar?

Gameplay - As I mentioned before the aesthetics of this game are really nice. As levels to run, climb, and shoot through they simply aren't fun or enticing, and really lend themselves to being exploited. When playing online, certain weapon loadouts, classes, and body types can dominate in stages without much resistance, forcing players to adopt similar tactics to be able to compete, which in turn robs the game of a truer sense of customization. Since smaller body frames are faster and can use parkour, heavier frames sacrifice this ability so they can recieve more damage before respawning (an overwhelming weakness in my opnion). The concept of putting parkour style movement into an FPS was a nice touch, and most of the time you can get to where you're trying to get pretty seemlessly. It's the moments where you're character accidentally climbs straight into a deadend, or forgets to climb and faceplants into a wall, leaving you a sitting duck for the opposition that will make you curse the platforming elements. Still it works more often than it doesn't. 

There are a gratifying amount of weapons and modifications that really allow you to have the setup you're craving. Unfortunately the four seperate classes all feel like the same class. The only notable change is a class sensitive button, but outside of certain classes being forced into maps (in order to capture/disable objectives) they just don't feel like they play differently at all. Also for the single player campaign, the squad A.I. will be the current shining example for just how badly computer controlled squad mates can conduct themselves (in my opinion anyway). You actually have to make up for their inability to perform the most basic of objectives, and their obsession with non-critical checkpoints is positively criminal. There are two factions to play as, and their individual story missions are comprised of the exact same levels in reverse order. I don't want to call this lazy, because rushed seems like a more apt term. Had this title more time to cook they might have been able to playtest it more and perhaps they'd have caught a lot of these fixable issues. Lastly, major fun reduction to be found in Brinks amazingly long, and frequent, escort missions.

Replay - The online leveling system is fun, and to be honest, the most fun I had in this game was unlocking new articles of clothing and trying them on. Playing dress-up-the-badass, was more fun than play-as-the-badass, in this case. New weapons and perks are always nice to receive, but the only redeeming value this game offers (other than how cheap the price of the game is now) is the character customization. The rest unfortunately, seems like another example of great design, with poor execution.

Score - 2 out of 5. This will be one of those games that's really hard to recommend to anyone, and I'm assuming a cult following will stay devoted to Brink if any sequels are made. There are probably better FPS titles out there you should be playing, or a great retro title you could relive, before having to play this game (at all [or anymore than you already have]). The customization is certainly something worth tinkering with, and it should certainly be regarded as the new standard for how character customization is handled for games like this. 

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review

Video Game Review - El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron 

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron has got to be one of the most titularly confusing, and utterly disappointing games of 2011. I had sincerely high hopes for this game before its release because it seemed to be attempting something daring and unique in today's gaming climate. However the game fails to deliver a satisfying adventure and gripping gameplay, to match its stunning visuals and unique design.

Sightplay - This is the best part of this game. The unique art style is positively captivating and the architechture feels like something truly divine. The interpretation of angels and devils battling each other in a heavenly realm (or hell [or limbo]) is something to experience. The use of raw colors gives backgrounds a degree of abstraction that has proven quite affective in drawing emotion out of me while playing. When I compare it to other games brimming with realisticly textured scenery. Perhaps it's my weakness for cel-shading, but something about the bright colors lends a timeless look. It's what makes Jet Set Radio or Wind Waker still look amazing today. It's unfortunate that the rest of this game doesn't live up to the spectacular and daring visual design.    

Soundplay - The voice acting in this game is fairly decent, but the few characters involved will soon grow boring and familiar. The sounds of combat are passable and feel approriate, but sadly just aren't memorable at all. I hate to sound like a broken record but the soundtrack was also forgettable. Not awful mind you, and while you're playing it all seems very cohesive and matches together quite well, just not that great. However after the game is over, rather quickly at that, none of the music really sticks with you. Perhaps it's the fact that the music seems too conventional. Orchestral arrangements for a divine adventure seems almost too expected. 

Gameplay - This is where the game completlely falls on its angelic face, with all the impact of a fall from the very heavens themselves. The game is an incredibly simplistic hack and slash with bits of platforming thrown in as well. It seems as though the developers were going for a streamlined approach, but the whole affair comes off as tedious. Even for a game that is about six hours long, you've pretty much played through it all by the half way point. There are only three weapons to use in the game and obviously one of them is overpowered, rendering the other two useless (unless a boss fight forces you to use one in order to finish it off). Perhaps it's the masochist in me but this game could have definitely benefitted from a more action packed approach to gameplay, a la Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. The increase in difficulty would have been greatly appreciated, as I felt like I beat this game half asleep. The 2D platforming sections were a bold way to incorporate some retro segments into the game, but were beyond dull. 

Replay - Although I'm reviewing this game late, and the price for this game has gone down substantially, I'm still criticizing this game as if it were full price. And for the full asking price of $60, this game was positively not worth it. It could have been far more successful as a $20 downloadable title, because it feels like that's the amount of content you're getting. The story, although appealing and mystical at first, becomes little more than fun visuals surrounding a dull game. There isn't much by way of replay value at all either. There are six collectible items that, if gathered, provide you with an invulnerable armor to equip making the hardest difficulty an absolute breeze. 

Score - 1 out of 5. This game is the epitome of a rental. It's something you must experience, but it might just be as fulfilling if you saw all the cutscenes online instead of having to button mash you're way through the brief game. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron was a game I was hoping would help inject some new values into the gaming industry, but unfortunately it fails to deliver.

Heppy Valentimes Day

And so another Valentimes day comes and goes, like so many colored blocks paired into three's and then disappearing into a nameless void. Hopefully it wasn't too bleak for some of you out there without anyone courting for your affections. The rest of you, with any luck, have secured someone to share love with and are enjoying another evening of passionate, if mildly disappointing, consensual sexual congress. 
So from me: Have another Heppy Valentimes Day. 
I leave you with this wonderful quote I found on VGcats, regarding the very definition of Love.

ᶘᵒᴥᵒ ᶅ  Lolo and Lola  ᶘ ᵒᴥᵒᶅ   

"Definition: 'Love' is making a shot to the knees of a target 120 kilometers away using an Aratech sniper rifle with a tri-light scope. Statement: This definition, I am told, is subject to interpretation. Obviously, love is a matter of odds. Not many meatbags could make such a shot, and fewer would derive love from it. Yet for me, love is knowing your target, putting them in your targeting reticle, and together, achieving a singular purpose, against statistically long odds."
 -VGcats <3

Watchmen 2: The Search for Curly's Gold

I recently caught wind of the fact that DC is working on releasing a sequel to the Watchmen. This is pretty bizarre news as it always felt like one of those classic works of comic book history that never needed a sequel. Even though it seems that the stories being created are mostly prequels, with very talented writers making individual story arcs for each of the Watchmen, it still feels like some kind of nerd blasphemy. If I'm not mistaken the whole series should be around thirty six issues, with a six issue story here, and four issue story there, and the like. 

Some people think of the Watchmen as holy ground to never be tread on again, lest one of the perfectly placed blades of grass be shoved out of order. Other people, including some of the people working on the comic, think that this is exactly what comics books are about. Exploring fascinating characters in extraordinary worlds in an ongoing series of events. 

Personally, I don't plan on paying for these comics right out of the gate, but I might wait for whole story arcs to be finished so I can read the entirety of them at my leisure. I mean, its the Watchmen for corn's sake! How could I not want more? But therein lies the rub, because DC knows there is a legion of rabid fans who will devour these comics as soon as they are printed. I wouldn't be surprised to see issues getting marked up by comic book vendors. Its hard to blame them for wanting to make money while struggling to maintain a dying industry, but are the publishers to blame for releasing a sequel I don't feel many people were asking for?  The Last Angry Geek will no doubt be reviewing these comics on his web show, but since he goes into spoiler territory it may behoove me to skip to the end of his reviews for the star ratings. Odds are the first issue should be released sometime this summer. Fingers crossed.

Day 1 Dlc & Demon Stone

The highly anticipated Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is allegedly coming with online passes included with each new copy of the game. Author R.A. Salvatore was involved with the game, and I personally loved Demon Stone on the PS2 and Xbox, so this is an exciting new IP I'm looking forward to. However, the game offers a story arc that spans seven unique quests and is only offered for free when a new copy of the game is purchased. The developer said that it wasn't locked access on the disk, it is DLC intended as a bonus gift to those who are willing to purchase the game new in an effort support the games developers and publishers. Rewarding people who support the industry in some way, that's something I understand. BUT how about rewarding the mother fucking player when they pay for the product in any form! If you own the disc, you should own the game. All of it. The catch in this instance, for me, is the fact that the Day 1 DLC was kind of a surprise. They didn't openly state that they were using it as a method to fight used game sales, or piracy, but that's exactly what they're trying to do. But when they announced what comes with the collector's edition, that might have been a good time to sneak it in the press release. Still it is a more welcome tactic when compared to other video game releases lately.

I wish CAPCOM would reimburse me for the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 coaster I paid full price for the very midnight that it came out, when they rereleased a newer edition of the game a few months later, rendering mine completly obsolete. And even onthe new disc there are still locked characters that you have to pay extra money for. Were they smart they would have offered to sell something like the "ultimate expansion pack" for at a reduced price to players who actually paid money to support the company the first time. 

Shouldn't we as gamers be expecting frequent updates to help balance the gameplay from exploit abusers and metagamers, instead of yearly copies of the game at full retail price (which in MvC3's case only came with a pathetic excuse for multiplayer and matchmaking)? Leauge of Legends does this near weekly! Free new characters, balance tweaks, and game modes. I think those are the methods that sets LoL apart as being the future of video gaming. If Capcom would have released character specific alternate costumes for a dollar a piece, instead of bundling them in groups of four, they would have had my business. Instead, they bundle alternate costumes in packs of four, when I only really want just one. Why not let me choose which four alternate costumes in this pack, out of the full reportoire of new content, I want to pay for? If they're too greedy to let me get just one at a time, then they don't deserve to be supported for handicapping me, as the player, even further in the decisions I can make with the game I paid for.

Hey what ever happened with Demon Stone? That game was great. Maybe thats just my weakness for elves and wizards and video games talking though. Wasn't Patrick Stewart in it?