For this entry I’m going to look at the fighting game genre (sorry Parappa the Rapper fans). The fighting genre is one of the few genres that I can say I followed from it’s birth to today, and had a chance to play the variety of titles that have shaped it. From Clay Fighter, to Way of the Warrior and everything in between, there was always a way to beat the crap out of someone. To me fighting games fall into one of three styles of game play: combo intensive, special moves, and free flow. Which I’ll be going into detail about before I look at the big name games of the genre. Just to clarify , for this entry I’m talking specifically about fighting games that are one on one matches, so games like Power Stone or the Smash Brothers’ series aren’t going to be looked at.

The style of game play basically sets the stage for how gamers are going to play and master their respective games. Combo intensive refers to games that special moves are either limited or left out, and the majority of damage done is by combos. The combos require the player to set up the opponent to be hit by a multi button sequence of attacks to dish out major damage to their opponents. Anything that isn’t part of a combo string may be just one or two quick hits, sometimes just pushing the punch button in rapid succession counts as a small combo. Expert players can set up devastating combos that can usually finish off an opponent if the whole thing connects. Mastering these games is about memorizing the sequences and having the dexterity to pull them off. Tekken and to a lesser extent the Dead or Alive series are good examples of this style. My issue with this style is that the game play is really rigid, no room for improvisation and requires the player to use the combos made up by the designers or expert players. Taking things to the extreme Killer Instinct had massive combo strings that activated a finishing combo that usually hits someone over a 100 times.

Next up are games that fall into the special move category. In this one, it’s more about using a collection of special moves to defeat opponents. Special moves refer to movement and button sequences to unleash unique attacks, combos if any are more relegated to expert matches . Memorization is once again king as with no knowledge of special attacks, the player is forced to use the basic punch/kick attacks to win fights. Obviously Mortal Kombat is the big example here as well as other classic fighting games such as Street Fighter, and Primal Rage among others. The same complaint I have for combo intensive is seen here, these games are about using a rigid system to win matches. The problem is worse as it’s easier to figure out combo sequences as you can deduce if your onto something. With special moves all your left with is either the move working or just a regular punch or kick going off.

Finally we have free form fighting games, and my current favorite type of fighting game. Instead of special moves that have unique effects, here different attacks could do something special along with doing damage, such as knock back, attacking low,setting opponent up for a throw, etc. Characters have a huge amount of combos available to them, but instead of only being able to use them and nothing else, the move list is so great that just about every button combination can start something. The part that I like the most about these games is how characters are developed to be different from each other compared to other titles. These titles are less about memorizing entire move lists, and instead on focusing on moves that the player likes and working on advance techniques such as countering. The Soul Calibur and Virtua Fighter series are the best examples of this type.

I was never a fan of the first two styles, since this was a time when the arcade was the still the best platform for the genre, meant that there was no way to really find these special moves or long combo strings in a play through. The free form style is the youngest of the three by one or two years starting with the original Virtua Fighter I think. Recently, the last Mortal Kombat title went heavy on rigid combos and the whole thing did not play well in my opinion. Watching footage of Mortal Kombat VS the DC universe actually looked good and I’ll be keeping my eye on it. A few years back I tried Tekken for the first time, and hated it. Unlike Dead or Alive which is combo heavy but still lets you work on advance techniques. Tekken felt that all you had were these incredibly long and complex combo strings to work with.

Playing Virtua Fighter for the first time with VF4 Evo, I was impressed with the diverse characters available. Give me quality over quantity any day, and it was interesting to see how playing with Akira was different from Shun Di and so on. I’m waiting for my copy of VF 5 to get here, and I’ll be practicing with Goh once again.
I’ve also spent time with the Naruto and Dragon Ball Z fighting games on the PS2, and they seem to be similar to free form game play even though there are special moves and attacks. The main arsenal of a player are punches ,kicks, and advance techniques available.

To me the fighting genre is the best genre for watching competitive gaming, watching expert players duke it out is great . I’ve been watching the competitive gaming series and I like watching the Dead or Alive matches the best as it’s the easiest to see who is winning or the variety of styles present. By now you should have figured out that I think the future of fighting games is with free form styled game play, I don’t think I’m going to be picking up Street Fighter 4 when it hits as going back to special moves doesn’t sound to inviting to me. I’m interested to see how much more Sega can do with the Virtua Fighter franchise above adding new characters, as the core mechanics have been pretty solid for a while. Lastly I wonder when we’ll see another evolution in the genre , if that is possible from free form .

Josh

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In a moment of serendipity Corvus was talking about how the movie ” The Big Lebowski” is similar to “The Hero’s Journey”.here while I’ve spent the last few weeks reading two books by Joesph Campbell (the man behind the idea), “The Power of Myth” and ” The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. I’ve always had a love of mythology from tenth grade English class and as I’ve been trying to improve my story telling ability it’s fascinating to see the building blocks behind an epic story. I’m finding myself now when remembering stories both from video games and books saying to myself ” that’s a shadow, that’s a trickster, that guy just refused the call”. The examples Campbell uses in his books of myths around the world are both interesting and eerie in their similarities. Which leads me to the first point of this entry, getting some fresh blood for backdrops in video games.

Mythology is a very rich canvas of stories and characters, and yes Greek is a popular (and somewhat overused) source of inspiration, I would love to see games set in other stories. There have been a few games set in Norse mythology and even rarer Egyptian mythos, but there is so much more out there to draw inspiration from. Okami on the Ps2 and Wii is the only example I can think of that used Japanese mythology for it’s story and backdrop. The only example of Chinese mythology would be the game Jade Empire, while interesting was still just somewhat of a backdrop used to tell the story and not the drive of the story. I think the fact that games are using more then just Greek mythology as a source now is good, and I hope to see more used in the future. I couldn’t talk about mythology in games without mentioning Age of Mythology which brought Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology against each other and was one of my favorite RTS titles and used the source material well to create the various sides and myth units available. Moving from mythology, to the other lesson Campbell goes into detail about, the path of a hero.

The other point which I’ve said before in my look at character growth, is that I still feel that we could do more with story telling in out games, specifically in the RPG genre. Besides character growth which I talked about, I am tired of the same “beat the baddie and everyone is happy” ending, we need some Greek tragedy in our stories in my opinion. One thing about RPGS is that in most of them we never see the effects of our actions, whether it’s saving a village or stopping the evil in a land. The cities and people remain the same. Watching the world around the player grow along with them would be a nice touch, as seen in Okami as the world becomes more colorful as the player pushes back the darkness. One aspect of the hero’s journey that we never really see in RPGS is the return part of the tale where the hero brings back whatever reward was earned to society, most games end with the final boss dead and everyone celebrating. I think the reason for this is that in a lot of games the lore of the world is never really establish which keeps us from connecting with it to have a satisfying ending.

I’m not finished with ” The Hero With a Thousand Faces” to go on further about the concepts ,but for fans of mythology or just the structure of stories both books are a great read.

Josh

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Well I’ve been promising a look at the horror genre for some time, and I haven’t managed to come up with a better title for it so here goes. Over at the igda forums there is a discussion about the best horror examples in games, and what makes a good horror title (link). It’s interesting to read the responses and pants wetting moments from other gamers. As someone who now fears hospitals, schools, office buildings, and just about everything in a town thanks to Silent Hill, I have to wonder how I would design a horror title.

The horror genre has been around for some time, you could say that Alone in the Dark was the first example in the US, while technically Japanese gamers had Sweet Home a horror/rpg title as their first taste of it. There are some common elements between horror titles, usually some kind of disturbing sound track and creatures that fall on the “wtf” list. With the numerous titles over the years, there are a few complaints that are still around.

First are the controls, I know it’s not exactly terrifying to control a character with a quad rocket launcher, Hulk like strength, and martial arts prow less, but can we get away from the ten year old girls with dementia, vertigo, depth perception issues, and a broken leg? I no longer find it scary to put 14 year old girls up against nightmarish ghouls and demons, I like that Silent Hill gives us adults most of the time. Then we have games that still make our characters control like tanks, and that has yet to change for the majority of horror titles. I should be scared by the fact that something bad is around the corner, not that my character can’t turn around in less then 3 seconds. The horror genre for the most part seems to be stuck in a rut, relying on the same tricks and elements to scare us with rare exception.

I’ve yet to play the Condemned series, it’s on my list (or someone could send me a free copy) but I think that is where I like the horror genre to move onto. Give me characters that can hold their own for the most part , and put them up against creatures or people who are as strong or stronger then they are. Don’t make me weaker by messing with my controls, work on the enemies. I’ve been playing around in my head for a first person horror game idea. The player is alone on a space station with at least 10 alien creatures, each one different in every way. The player needs to find a way to escape and/or fight them while out maneuvering them. The player can use the station’s gravity controls or even escape into space for a few minutes to try to evade them. The really powerful weapons are few and far between with a few shots for them leaving the player to flee, or fight to wound the enemy long enough to get away for the most part. Another issue I have is that game designers over saturate us to the various beasts, by half way through the game we’ve seen the same 3 armed 2 headed creature so many times that it no longer scares us. I should be constantly saying “what the hell is that thing, and why is it trying to bite me?”

On the igda forums I gave an example of a moment I would like to see put into a video game which I’ll be quoting now “One example I saw that I would love to work into a game is from Evil Dead 2 (the movie not the game). Near the end of the movie Ash is heading down into the cellar with a shotgun in one hand and a chainsaw for his other arm. In most horror games with a set up like this, there would be no need to feel scared. Yet this a tense moment, even with these weapons Ash is still afraid of something attacking from behind or even fighting something period.” I want to see characters who are bad asses, yet completely terrified or unnerved at the events that are happening.

Resident Evil 4 is considered to be the best game in the series so far and a great step forward for the franchise in my opinion. My only problem is that the tank like controls of the series are still there. I would love to be able to move and shoot in a Resident Evil game. I do have high hopes for the new Fatal Frame game, not only because it’s being done by GrassHopper Studios (makers of Killer 7 and No More Heroes), but it will use the Wii-Mote for aiming at all the creepy ghosts .

Maybe it’s just me, after all the zombies, ghosts, demons, whatever the hells from Silent Hill I’m just not as scared anymore by the horror genre. I was reasonably calm playing BioShock except for a few fits of anger but I’ve talked about that already. This does raise an important question ,given my own disturbed psyche and what would scare me, what would people say about a horror game designed by me? I figure one of two options, either it will be so scary that it will make grown men go back to nightlights for awhile, or no one would be scared and they would question my sanity(more so then normal).

So I leave you with two important pieces of information, if your in a Japanese village and a girl in a kimono starting laughing hysterically at you, get the hell out of there, there’s a possibility that she is an evil spirit who wants to use your soul for some kind evil ritual. Also if your radio starts making static for no reason, be afraid, be very afraid

Josh (who finally came up with a decent title for this entry)

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These past few weeks have not been kind to HellGate London, and things have hit rock bottom this week as the majority of the employees at FlagShip Studios have been let go and the game will still be available online, but no new content or support will be given. What’s worse is that Mythos, the free to play cartoonish version of Diablo 2 that actually looked good is now on “hiatus” or aka “no one is there to work on it”. I’ve heard discussions over the years of estimating the amount of game time to the money spent on it. With subscription payment options for games these days, this kind of talk is all the more important.

Personality I hate subscription based games, hence why I’m not playing World of Warcraft right now. First is that I hate being charged for something that I’m not using when I’m not logged on, and the only way I feel I get my money’s worth is if I play that game all the time. As someone who likes to switch off to different games during the day, having to play just one game doesn’t suit my style at all. There’s also the fact that I hate paying to play with other people but that could just be my introverted nature rearing it’s head. I’ve also seen payment options that I prefer over the subscription option which I’ll be getting to in a few minutes. Now let’s talk about what HellGate did wrong.

For those not up to speed with the history of the game, HellGate was developed by one of the team members behind Diablo 2 and was billed as the spiritual successor to it. One year before launch this was on the top of my must play list, yet one hell of a buzz kill was announced a few months before launch. HellGate was to have two ways of playing it online, a regular version and a subscription version, that sounds ok but it became bad fast. Subscription players had access to the following: more character slots, better customer support, new content down the line, access to new areas and equipment. Having customer support be used as a reason for people to pay is just screwing the customer in my opinion. Originally Flagship said that they would deliver new classes and content every three months with small updates every month. Since the game has been released last October, no new classes were released and I believe one maybe two content updates were made. Incase that wasn’t bad enough the following kicked the game off my list, if you unsubscribe any subscriber content you had would become locked from use until you resubscribe. To put it bluntly, HellGate was doomed right out of the gate (pun intended).

Not all game genres are the same, and creating content for them is different. Rpgs are some of the hardest to create new content for, just look at all the changes and revisions World of Warcraft has had. Action RPGs do not lend themselves well for new content down the line. The prime reasons to play them is the never ending cycle of beating up enemies, getting better loot, and making yourself more powerful. Everything else is just filler , I don’t want to stop and fish for ingredients while hunting for Diablo . The reasons to play an action RPG are also the downfall of the genre, these games are very repetitive and you can burn out playing them pretty fast. Both the positives and negatives hurt the chance of making action rpgs into a subscription based genre.

Unlike full scaled MMOs, action rpgs stay to the above mentioned reasons meaning to keep players paying for it, requires a huge amount of content to be created fast. There really isn’t anything else to do in the game world and players will become burnt out fast compared to a game like World of Warcraft which has a lot for the player to do. There was no way in hell (no pun intended) HellGate could produce content to keep players entertain and paying for in a month’s time. Hence why it took so long to get one update going, and all in the meantime people were giving them money for nothing. Also whatever they could produce for the game would still be the same type of content in the game already, and MMOs have a greater variety for a few dollars more a month. Removing access to content is just a slap in the face and really doesn’t make sense if the player is only playing the game in the single player. FlagShip was attempting to do something new to the genre like ArenaNet with Guild Wars yet Guild Wars came out on top.

ArenaNet was smart, they knew the same thing I know that an action RPG cannot be shoehorned into the traditional pricing scheme of a MMO and that creating content cannot be feasible in such a short development time. Their strategy was to make the game free to play completely, and instead released full priced expansions which would equal the cost if you were subscribing in that time. Unfortunately they realized that they couldn’t create the amount of content they wanted in that time and had to release it at a later date, but unlike HellGate players they were still playing it for free in the meantime. The other advantage of an expansion based pricing model is designing it for different players. One expansion boasted more PVP options for players, while another had a full PVE campaign. Each had a small amount of everything but was mainly focused on one aspect of game play. HellGate tried to capitalized on the success of World of Warcraft and failed. Besides expansion based models there is one other I think could work for action rpgs.

I’m a fan of the game Albatross 18 and played it for some time. The game is basically an online version of the Hot Shots Golf series. What the designers did was make the game so that new courses were free, and that people could win games without spending money. There are two currencies in the game, one is earned by playing games and can buy some items, the other is bought with real money that can be used to buy rarer items and new characters. I think this kind of token pricing model could work for action rpgs, lets say that areas of the game are locked behind pay booths that require a specific kind of currency to get into. Once paid for they will remain unlocked for that account forever. There should be enough content for fans to get their money’s worth, but the extra stuff is for players who want more.

I feel bad for the designers, artists, and programmers at FlagShip , it was a good idea that was done in the wrong way. I have no remorse however for the management who went ahead and promoted the pricing model, as they should have realized the same thing that we did. That an action rpg is not the best genre for subscription based gaming. It’s a shame that a causality of these events was probably going to be the best thing to come out of FlagShip studios, Mythos which looked to capture the joy of Diablo 2. I am left to wonder what will Blizzard do with Diablo 3, talking to my friend the other day there is a strong possibly of having some kind of pricing model for playing online due to immense popularity of the series. I wonder how closely they’ve watched the success of Guild Wars and the failure of HellGate and how that will figure in.

Josh

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