TANG: Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist

(The following contains spoilers for Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist. Watch Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist HERE)

It all started with Street Fighter: Legacy, a two-and-a-half minute fan-made proof-of-concept short that showed more love to the acclaimed video game franchise than Hollywood had managed to muster in two full-length feature-films. Reactions were overwhelmingly positive and, a few years later, the short's creator, Joey Ansah, returned with a Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise the funds necessary to realize his vision of a Street Fighter movie that would be faithful to the source material.

In the first few weeks the campaign only managed to raise ~$27,000 out of a million dollar goal. The situation looked bleak until the announcement came that that the strong buzz surrounding the project had caught the attention of private investors. The crowdfunding campaign was cancelled immediately so that production could begin on Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist. A year later, the completed product was streamed as a movie on Twitch and uploaded as a 12-part miniseries to the Machinima YouTube channel.

An origin story within an origin story, Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist follows the early days of central series characters Ryu and Ken and their training under their master Gouken. Depicted in parallel via flashbacks is the young Gouken training alongside his brother Gouki under their master Goutetsu.

The film opens in 1989 with Mike Moh as Ryu and co-writer Christian Howard as Ken facing off against one another on a riverbank. Fans will instantly recognize Ryu's white headband and Ken's long hair, a look that was established in the Alpha series. The action flows between furious assaults and moments of slow-motion highlighting the heaviest blows. Ansah's decision as director to stay away from the ever-popular shaky-cam keeps the fighting crisp and clear, lending a real weight to the thud of every punch and kick and allowing the audience to fully appreciate the beauty of the choreography and the skill of the actors.

Before the fight can reach its conclusion, time moves back to 1987 as Ryu and Ken train in Ansatsuken (lit. Assassin's Fist) alongside Akira Koieyama as Gouken. Ryu and Ken are immediately set up as foils, as Moh's portrayal of Ryu's introverted and obedient nature clashes perfectly with the brash confidence and insolence of Howard's Ken. Context for Ken's demeanor in provided in a brief flashback as his father Mr. Masters, played by Mark Kileenn, leaves him at a young age in Gouken's care.

Red, White, and Blueish

Ryu and Ken are preparing to move on to the next stage of their training, mastering the art of the Hado. For fans of the series this is the good stuff, as Gouken breaks down the technique behind the Shoryuken and explodes a training dummy with a respectable CG Hadoken. Ryu and Ken spar in one of the many excellent fight scenes, managing to work in a few of their trademark attacks including the Collarbone Breaker.

The film begins to cut back and forth between Ryu and Ken, and the Hado training a younger Gouken underwent in 1956. The fatherly love in Gouken's warm but firm training style, that Koieyama expertly portrays, is brought into stark contrast against the aggressive training style of Goutetsu, portrayed by the legendary Togo Igawa

The difference between Gouken's Mu No Hado (Power of Nothingness) and Goutetsu's Satsui No Hado (Murderous Intent) is immediately apparent in the demeanors of young Gouken, played by the actor Shogen, and his brother Gouki, played by Gaku Space. While the brothers' characters closely mirror the balance between Ken and Ryu, their rivalry has taken on a harder edge due to the nature of their training and mutual interest in Goutetsu's niece, Sayaka, played by the actress Hyunri. Most notable is the barely-contained rage that Gouki's body trembles with in nearly every scene. It teeters dangerously close to caricature, but ultimately is successful in portraying Gouki's struggle to master the violent force within him.

(Don't worry if all the "Go" names have you confused. There were times when even I had trouble figuring out who was being yelled at.)

Anyone familiar with these sorts of martial-arts stories knows what happens next. One student remains on the true path while the other steps close to darkness in an effort to hasten their training. While Ken is quickly set straight by Gouken, Gouki ends up leaving everything behind and eventually succumbs to the Satsui No Hado, transforming into Akuma. This change in character also means a change in actors, as Ansah steps in to fill the role of the Raging Demon. The effect can be jarring if not a bit confusing for series newcomers, as the half-English, half-African Ansah bears absolutely no resemblance to the decidedly Japanese Gaku Space. That said, with a series of spectacular feats of strength and a gravelly Japanese accent accurate enough to fool an avid anime-watcher, Ansah manages to pull off the character quite nicely.

Can you see the resemblance?

There is a beautiful loneliness to the Bulgarian countryside that stands in for Japan in these linked narratives. The quiet isolation of Ryu and Ken's life is only broken on occasion by comedic relief in the form of an old man named Goma who constantly heckles Ken during training, and a brief stint to a bar near an American military base featuring a uniquely trollish cameo. Goma, also played by Igawa, sticks out as a particularly sore thumb with a ridiculously obvious wig and painfully forced lines, but thankfully his appearances are occasional and brief.

Everything comes to a head as the film reaches its consecutive climaxes, first with the reckoning between Akuma and Goutetsu, followed by a graduation battle of sorts between Ryu and Ken. It is some of the best martial arts choreography out there and replete with nods to the long list of techniques available to Ansatsuken users. Finally Gouken bids a bittersweet farewell to his students as they set out on their Musha Shugyou, a warrior's journey to self-discovery. While some viewers may be left wondering what happened to the seemingly inevitable showdown between Gouken and Akuma, fans of the lore know that the actual confrontation does not take place until after Ryu and Ken have finished their pilgrimages and Ryu has been overcome by the Satsui No Hado a second time during the World Warrior tournament.

Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist succeeds where other Street Fighter movies have failed, by paying proper tribute to the franchise that defined and continues to dominate the fighting game genre, and goes above and beyond expectations by being not only a good video game movie, but a good movie in its own right. While it is unclear what is next for Ansah and his crew, he has already stated his interest in making further films should Assassin's Fist prove to be a success. Whether you're a Street Fighter fan or simply someone who appreciates good action, this is a movie worth watching, and hopefully the start of a long, long series.

Stray thoughts:

  • "...who the hell's Dan?"
  • Blanka cameo, watch for it or you might miss it. If you think about it, you'll know when it's happening.
  • When did Mr. Masters become Australian?
  • "Hi Roo" (shoutouts to S-Kill)
  • In the original canon, Akuma fights Gouken during his first visit and loses. I guess they didn't want to compromise his badassedness.
  • Despite some confusion, even within Capcom, as to the true nature of the Shun Goku Satsu, Ansah gets to the root of it in the subtitles.
  • A fight scene that inspires people to start talking about frame data in the comments section must be doing something right.
  • Yo Ken, you're not supposed to give Ryu his red headband until Alpha 2.
  • I wish you were here for this one Ryan
  • Some excellent comparisons between gifs of the movie and game sprites here and here.
But seriously, fuck this guy


WotC Can't Stand the Heat, Tries to Kick Other Cook Out of the Kitchen

It was probably just a matter of time, but Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic: The Gathering and MTG Online, have filed a lawsuit against their biggest direct competitor. No, I'm not talking about Hearthstone.

HEX: Shards of Fate is an upcoming Free-to-Play digital card game being designed by Cryptozoic Entertainment, creators of the World of Warcraft TCG that heavily inspired Hearthstone and a wide variety of other tabletop/board/card games. A self-described MMOTCG, Hex hopes to offer players a wide breadth of PvE content to be experienced solo and in groups in addition to the traditional PvP trappings commonly associated with TCG's. It also borrows more heavily on the mechanics of Magic than any other TCG I'm aware of.

This is a bigger problem for WotC than it might initially seem, as the online version of Magic has been under fire this year as players have gotten fed up with the incredibly poor quality of the client. Their feeble attempts at an update have only served to make things worse, and have left players bewildered as to how a company could let their flagship product remain so fugly and non-functional when Duels of the Planeswalkers exists.

One of these things is not like the other...

Of course for a long time none of this mattered because Magic was literally the market when it came to online TCG's. Even with the recent genre explosion of significantly prettier games like Might & Magic: Duel of Champions, SolForge, and Hearthstone, WotC were able to cling to the fact that no competitor could match MTGO in terms of breadth, depth, or complexity, which granted them a captive audience of the most hardcore card-game players. But that seems to be exactly who Hex is targeting.

No bones about it, there is a lot of Magic in the DNA of Hex. It seems less like Cryptozoic set out to build a completely new TCG ruleset and more like they reimagined Magic as a modern game designed to take advantage of a purely digital format. Outside of a slightly more flexible resource system and a number of card mechanics that would be impossible with cardboard, Hex plays exactly like Magic, right down to deckbuilding, win conditions, and turn structure. Once a Magic players learns that a Troop is a Creature and that "Spellshield" means "Hexproof", they can jump right in to playing Hex.

Look familiar?

Hex is literally offering everything that MTGO has (minus the absurdly large cardpool and the exorbitant prices that come with it) with a significantly more attractive wrapper. This has put MTGO under much closer scrutiny and, instead of putting up or shutting up, WotC has fired back with a "no you shut up" by suing Hex and Cryptozoic for copyright violation, trademark violation, patent violation, and consumer confusion. You can find an excellent breakdown of the entire lawsuit and how much of a leg WotC has to stand on in this article by Douglas Linn. He's a lawyer specializing in business law and estate planning by day, and the director of QuietSpeculation, a site focused on strategy and finance in Magic: The Gathering, by night.

Perhaps most worrysome are Linn's conclusions:

This is company-killing litigation if Wizards prevails on its claims AND gets all the damages that it wants. It means that if Wizards wins on either the second or third claim, the court could permanently prevent Hex from making the game.

I predict that Wizards will win on its patent claims, it has a good shot at winning on copyright claims, and it will lose on its Lanham Act claims.

There is a very real chance that Hex will never see full release. By the way, did I mention that this is a Kickstarter game?

The most interesting wrinkle in this entire story is the fact that Hex is one of the multi-million-dollar video game Kickstarters that followed in the wake of Broken Age née Double Fine Adventure. 17,765 people funded Hex: Shards of Fate, to a tune of $2,278,255, with 13 of those people paying $10,000 each. Of course there are inherent risks when backing any Kickstarter project, but this is likely the first and certainly the biggest video game Kickstarter at risk of failure due to legal action.

While the people at Cyptozoic are trying to stay positive, their dream of building this incredibly ambitious digital card game (and their entire company?) may be at an end. What could this mean for Kickstarter if over $2 million in backer money suddenly disappears? And where does this leave the future of MTGO and the DCG space? All I can say for sure is that they are Wizards and this looks fucked up.


StarvingGamer's Games Worth Starving For (or Otherwise) in 2013

Between the down and dirtiest brawl we've ever seen leading up to a console release and so many flagrant misuses of the word "misogyny" that Merriam-Webster and Oxford are literally going to have to update their dictionaries, 2013 has been an incredibly topsy-turvy year in the world of video games. Thankfully, it hasn't all been controversy and knife-fights, as 2013 has also been one of the best years for video game releases, and I got to play quite a few of them.

2013's 2012 Game of the Year Presented By PC Ports

Resident Evil 6

His name is "Rookie Cop"

No one is more surprised about this than me. Last year, my experience with RE6 on PS3 was so negative that I wrote a blog post breaking down all the mechanical failings of the game, and subsequently named it my "Biggest Disappointment" of 2012. They had ruined the perfect balance of Resident Evil 5 by trying to make it play more like a shooter and, as everyone knows, shooters suck with a controller.

You know what shooters don't suck with? A mouse and keyboard. It was with this in mind that I felt compelled to pick up the game again on PC, at a significant discount of course. And let me tell you, the increased fidelity made such a difference it was like night and early evening.

Yes, the game still straddles genre lines in all the wrong ways, but being able to reliably snap headshots and melee enemies down without burning all my stamina on quick shots changes the gameplay from an exercise in frustration into an activity that is kinda maybe sorta fun. Of course I continue to be 100% bought in to the dumb-ass fiction of that universe and all of its unintentional camp, and the interwoven storylines are handled in interestingly, rather than being another instance of dumb Capcom recycling assets in that dumb Capcom way (*cough* Devil May Cry 4 *cough*)

It doesn't excel at much of anything, but like all games Resident Evil, RE6 manages to provide a decidedly unique experience. I'm glad I was finally able to play it.

Runner-up: Dust: An Elysian Tail

Best Sexy(ist?) Surprise

Tomb Raider

You're going to catch a cold!

As one of the games responsible for launching us into this dark age of video games "journalism", thanks in no small part to the developers going out of their way to cram as many feet into their mouths as possible during every interview, Tomb Raider quickly fell off my radar of games to care about in 2013. But a conspiracy of 33% off coupons and my loyalty to Rhianna Pratchett via her father convinced me to pick it up anyway.

And wow, what an excellent game from top to bottom. Sure, ludonarrative dissonance. Okay, she should probably put a coat on. But none of those things take away from what is, top-to-bottom, an incredibly fun action game in the Metroidlike style. The combat is crisp and varied, and the various travel tools doled out throughout the game make exploring the well-crafted environments consistently fun. The story succeeds in giving an origin story to this more relatable, more human Lara Croft (gameplay conceits aside).

Whether or not the developers actually understood what they were making, they succeeded in modernizing Lara in all the right ways, transforming her from a caricature to a character and providing me with one of my favorite experiences of the year.

Runners-up: Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale, Soul Sacrifice

P.S. If you own a 3DS, you really should pick up Attack of the Friday Monsters! I can't think of any game that does such a good job of capturing the joyful innocence of childhood. Just press play, alright?

EDIT: Embedding is broken for some reason. Linky instead.

Best Digital Card Game that is Embarrassingly Better Than Magic: The Gathering Online


Cards that level up!

MTGO is not a good game, or rather is a good game saddled with horribly broken technology. It's a sad state of affairs when the first online experience of one of your top players is so poor, they immediately declare it to be their last. So the timing couldn't be better for the various DCG's that have entered the market in varying levels of release, and right now the cream-of-the-crop is SolForge.

It may not have the production value of Hearthstone or the sweeping ambition of Hex, but it is the only game on the market to take full advantage of the digital format by creating something wholly unique from the more traditional ways of playing with cards. The draw five/play two structure means that there will always be meaningful decisions to be made, whether you're on turn one or turn twenty. And with a fully implemented tournament system, it is the best place for players looking for high-level constructed and draft play.

I've spent hundreds of hours on SolForge in 2013, and once I get an iPhone I'll be sure to spend thousands more in 2014, probably while driving.

Runners-up: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Hex: Shards of Fate

Biggest Disappointment


Let me preface this by saying that I do not hate SimCity. I have actually been able to eke out something in the area of a hundred hours of play time that I genuinely enjoyed.

Unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that the SimCity I got was not the SimCity I wanted, and those hundred hours can't fill the shoes of a game that I would have eagerly played for a thousand more. I'm sure I'll check back in on SimCity from time to time, but it will always be underscored by thoughts of what could have been.

Runners-up: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time

The Amazon.com Game to Pay Full-Price For and Not Play of the Year

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Oi, get off youer duff and play the game, mun!

I was so excited for this game since I first heard about it who knows how long ago on the 8-4 Play podcast. The team up of Level-5, one of my favorite developers, and Studio Ghibli, makers of Whisper of the Heart, sounded like a dream come true. But when it finally came around to release time, I had just bought DmC and was still hurting in the wallet a bit from the holidays and thought, well, maybe I don't actually need this game.

Then came the Quicklook and I was immediately sold. The quality of the voice work and animation blew me away and I just knew I needed to be in this world. So I put my order in to Amazon and by the end of the week, the game was in my greedy little hands.

It's hard to remember now, whether I was on the tail end of DmC or something else was pulling my attention, but I was only able to make it through the prologue into the first instance of actual gameplay before I put the game down to play Fire Emblem: Awakening. That held me until March happened and I never looked back.

Right now it's sitting at the top of my to-do list, right behind Final Fantasy XIII-2. Just a couple 60+ hour JRPG's. No sweat.

Runners-up: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Game of the Year

Fire Emblem: Awakening

What happens when you take all the best bits of a long and storied franchise and cram them into a single game? You get something singularly amazing, and that's exactly how I would describe Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Fire Emblem: Awakening is not only the best game to come out in the TRPG genre since 1998, it is easily one of my favorite games of all time. The well written story provides just enough intrigue to keep things moving without getting in the way of the incredibly designed battle system. The gameplay is the perfect balance of breadth and depth, not too intimidating for genre neophytes but complex enough to keep the most dedicated min/maxers entertained for hundreds of hours.

Nintendo joined the digital age just in time. No matter what the new hotness may be on 3DS, Chrom and friends will never be more than a few button prompts away.

My waifu! (What? I want dragon babies!)

Runners-up: 2. The Last of Us 3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies 4. Beyond: Two Souls 5. SolForge 6. BioShock Infinite 7. Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm 8. DmC Devil May Cry 9. Remember Me 10. Gone Home


The Worst Burger King in the World (oh, and Video Games Live)

TL;DR - You can watch an archive of the Comic-Con concert here http://www.twitch.tv/twitch/b/433486043

At some point, you may have stumbled across this blog I wrote last June when I was invited to be part of the choir performing on-stage for the Video Games Live concert being held in conjunction with E3. It was a strange and magical experience, and I was instantly on-board when I found out we had been invited back to perform in not one, but two VGL concerts this summer.

Russel Brower and Neal Acree defaced my property

So apparently my home town decided it was classy enough to need metered parking up until 10PM but not classy enough to install parking meters that take credit cards, which was a fun thing to deal with after fighting through an hour-and-a-half of rush-hour traffic trying to escape West LA. I eventually got to rehearsal which was rehearsal. Some of the songs were repeats from last year and some were new. "The Song of the Dragonborn" (footage from us last year!) made a triumphant return. The most notable additions were a song from a next-gen game (sekrit!) and "One Winged Angel" which always seemed like an odd omission from last year's concert. I mean, if we're talking about orchestral music from Japan, that's the song right?

I knew that Russell Brower was going to be back so this time I came prepared to nerd out and get my copy of the CE soundtrack from Diablo III signed. What I didn't know was that two other Blizzard composers were also going to be there. Neal Acree, who did a lot of the music for Heart of the Swarm, and Jason Hayes, who has been responsible for tons of Blizzard stuff including World of Warcraft, were guesting as conductors for songs they had composed. If only I had known, I would have tried to dig up more CE soundtracks buried in boxes somewhere in my home. Russel did recommend that Neal sign my D3 CD since he did a fair amount of the music for that game as well.

On the day of the concert I dropped my daughter off with my mom before heading down to Irvine. It was a crazy song and dance, trying to make arrangements for a full day's worth of childcare, but we made it happen. After arriving at the Verizon Amphitheatre a few minutes ahead of our call-time, I set about to find the choir and ended up with an interesting walking buddy. Derek Duke, yet another Blizzard composer, was there and he helped me find my way to the stage.

Jason Hayes getting into it

It's funny, all in all we did a total of four Blizzard pieces and, on my way back to the car after the concert, I overheard one of the audience members saying, "I think I would have liked this concert better if it wasn't this concert. I just wish they didn't have to kowtow to Blizzard just because it's in Irvine". All I could think to myself was that this kid clearly didn't get it. The whole point of VGL is to pay homage and respect to the people who have, in a way, created the soundtrack of our lives as gamers. What better way to do that than to put those composers in front of an audience of thousands with a full orchestra and choir at their disposal to show them what making music really means?

Other guest conductors included the return of Austin Wintory, the composer for Journey and the upcoming Banner Saga, and Eimear Noone, the recording conductor behind a majority of Blizzard's soundtracks as well as the conductor for The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess concert tour.

They cut out the solo acts this year but kept the audience-participation sideshow in the form of a "motion controlled" Space Invaders, with the orchestra providing the soundtrack, and a Guitar Hero score challenge on "The Pretenders" by the Foo Fighters, with the orchestra and Tommy Tallarico wailing on guitar in the background. The original challenge was to play the game on hard, and when the contestant requested that he be allowed to play it on expert instead the audience lost it. They were clapping and screaming the entire time, getting especially into it whenever he activated Star Power. #eSports I guess?

The concert was a ton of fun and I'm really excited for the upcoming show this Saturday at San Diego Comic-Con. Actually, I had originally planned for this blog to be a big mess of text covering both concerts. However, I recently learned that, as part of a sponsorship by Ubisoft to promote Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the concert is actually going to be free admission on a first-come first-served basis. On top of that, the entire thing is going to be streamed live by Twitch! It's probably going to be crazy packed, but if you're in the area it might be worth considering heading down to the venue a few hours earlier and scoping out the line. You might get a free concert out of it! Otherwise, I'd strongly recommend that everyone check Twitch on Saturday around 7:45PM PDT when I'm sure the VGL stream will be sitting right up at the top.

Because he would have wanted it that way

And hey, if you tune in, you might even see me! Then you can say to yourself, "Hey, I know that guy", and it will be cool for like 3 seconds before you forget all about it.

Oh right, the worst Burger King in the world! Well, we had a dinner break in between our rehearsal and the show and so, with extremely limited options, we decided to go to Burger King. It was Wednesday so I went for the $4.99 Whopper meal "for here", rings instead of fries, and started waiting for my "fast" food.

They were still quite a few numbers behind me, I saw them serving number 37 immediately after placing order number 44, but it was only a few minutes before the person standing in front of me in line received his food. I knew I was next. I saw the Whopper sitting on the warmer and some onion rings in a weird plastic scoop/tray thing over the salty, greasy abyss of fries. The guy arranging the orders grabbed the rings, the Whopper, and put them in a bag.

Hey, waitaminute.

My heart sunk as he grabbed the receipt clearly labeled number 50 and headed for the pickup window. He then proceeded to serve my friend who ordered after me, number 47, and a few other people waiting at the drive-thru. I was about to say something when the girl working behind the register noticed me looking antsy. She saw my ticket, sad number 44 still sitting up there, then shouted to the back for more onion rings.

Finally, after a few minutes more waiting, the rings were done. The girl was extra nice about it and stuffed as many rings as should could into the small container before piling a handful of extra ones on top. The food was fine and we still had plenty of time, but I have never waited for anything close to the 15 minutes it took them to serve me my "fast food".

Whatever, fuck that place. See you (you see me?) on Saturday!

My kit: Folder, music, book light, all-access pass, cough drops, 3DS (sick streetpasses yo!), and apparently a toe
The Venue
The venue with people
We had our own trailer!
Russel conducting like a pro
Me taking a picture of Tommy taking a picture of Eimear, and everything is blue?
Austin Wintory is AMAZING
DS'es, Phones and Laptops(?) instead of lighters. We are nerds
Thanks to the audience of VGL, I have transcended humanity and am now a T. Rex


Dead Space 3: The Vilification of Microtransactions

Disclaimer: I have not played Dead Space 3 (DS3) and am basing my opinions primarily on various reviews and information gleaned from the DS3 discussion during this week's Bombcast.


It's no surprise that we, as core gamers, feel an instinctual aversion towards microtransactions. We remember a time when buying a game meant buying a game. We remember when Free 2 Play games first started cropping up and how horrible they were. And now that they've started to bleed their way into our games, we're afraid that the well of fair design has been poisoned by greed.


Electronic Arts has been at the forefront of the $60+ movement, but their tentative forays have been largely innocuous. An unlock here, a bonus item there, and a minor hullabaloo over Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. And while it came as no surprise to me when it was revealed that DS3 would also have microtransactions in-the-box, I was somewhat taken aback by the massive amounts of vitriol being spewed across the internet.

After all, we had no idea how the in-game economy was balanced. How could we possibly pass judgement on a system we knew nothing about. But no, a majority of people seemed to be asserting that the actual design of the game was irrelevant. The mere presence of microtransactions was enough to condemn DS3, sight-unseen.


Now that the game is out in the wild, it sounds like microtransactions have had no negative impact on the design of DS3. The rate of resource accrual is properly balanced for players that choose not to spend any additional money, and in keeping with other EA titles, the single-player microtransactions exist only to serve as a shortcut for impatient players.

A fair assessment?

So I ask you, where is the harm? Are we willing to condemn EA for crimes they have yet to commit? Is it our place to deny the others the freedom to "ruin the experience" in our perception?

Development costs are inflating, making secondary revenue streams more and more crucial to a game's success. When the next generation rolls around, refusing to support a game that features microtransaction may mean finding a new hobby. Or sticking exclusively to the Wii U.

POLL: Here


StarvingGamer's Games Worth Starving For (or Otherwise) in 2012

2012 has been nothing if not a controversial year. Both the journalist and enthusiast communities helped prove the law of mob intelligence (lowest IQ among mob members ÷ total number of mob members = mob IQ) and a disturbingly large number of game developers have been either imploding or exploding. Despite all this, there has been such an embarrassment of content to experience that I have barely scratched the surface on many of my most anticipated games.

So without further ado, here is my 2012 in a nutshell.

2012's 2011 Game of the Year Presented By Steam Sales

Saints Row: the Third

This, more or less

I don't like open-world games. I never have. And I've tried, putting at least a dozen hours into the most lauded entries in the genre including Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption, but have never been able to fight my way through the middling mechanics and, in the case of GTAIV, the mental disconnect between the tough and gritty storyline and the manic insanity of what is presumably "fun" about the series.

Then Saints Row: the Third happened and GiantBomb went nuts. I wanted to jump in again, just to see what all the fuss was about, but I couldn't in good conscience pay full-price for the game. It was trapped between a rock (my overwhelmingly negative past experiences with the genre) and a hard place (the impossibly high expectations set by Giantbomb's staff and community). So I waited and waited and waited for the Steam Summer Sale and the $12.49 price tag it brought.

Needless to say, I was blown away. It may have something to do with the fact that I'm a mouse & keyboard snob, but for the first time the gameplay of an open-world game felt tight. The driving and shooting were actually a ton of fun to do. No more slogging through action sequences just to get to the next story beat, I actually went around looking for trouble. And the snappy writing and cartoonish violence set the proper tone for gleeful mischief which is where open-world games shine. Now I'm a believer, and am actually looking forward to Grand Theft Auto V with something approaching actual excitement.

Runners-up: Pushmo, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings

Best Surprise

Tie: Binary Domain / Sleeping Dogs

"Welcome to Japan, brother"

These are games that, by all rights, should not have been any good and were so far off my radar that I barely knew they existed outside of their name sardonically stated on the occasional podcast. Then they came out. Then the buzz started, but almost nobody bought them anyways. Then they started showing up on PC at extremely discounted prices. So I bought them, and wow.

Binary Domain is the wrong sort of game from the wrong developer in the wrong genre, so how is it so fun to play? The tactical options afforded by the location-based destruction of enemies make every encounter and interesting puzzle to solve. And while the upgrade paths are extremely shallow, they offer just enough customization to instill a sense of ownership over the characters. Sure, the wildly twisting plot is standard fare for anyone who regularly partakes in Japanese fiction, but the story meshes with the understated western designs of the cast in unexpectedly wonderful ways.

Sleeping Dogs, on the other hand, was caught in a development hell that most games would never have made it out of. The people at United Front Games are nothing short of miracle workers for managing to resurrect the game from its own ashes and elevate the entire genre in the process. The shooting is solid and the melee combat is sublime. And with numerous small touches they created a world that encourages players to drive within the lines and maintain that immersive sense of place.

Runner-up: Asura's Wrath

Geico Insurance's Best Game to Play While Driving

Magic: the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

Elemental on Archaeomancer Violence

...or pushing a stroller, or walking, or cooking, or giving my daughter a bath, or...

Hi. My name is StarvingGamer, and I am addicted to multitasking.

I have a restless mind that I need to keep occupied. As a kid, this meant lugging around a heavy, cumbersome book everywhere I went. Then the Game Boy Advance SP came out and I was diving a lot and there was this game called Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising and, well, that was that. Since then I have never left the house without a dedicated handheld device in tow, be it 3DS, Vita or, as it was for a majority of this year, iPad with Magic: the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.

MTG is a thinking man's game. A glance is all you need to get enough information to plan your entire turn, making it easy to play while on the go. And while DotP will never be fully-featured enough to fully satisfy my card-lust, the deck variety and system of unlocks are enough to keep me happy while my 15,000+ collection is in mothballs.

Runners-up: Penny-Arcade The Game: Gamers vs. Evil, Persona 4: Golden, SolForge Demo

Biggest Disappointment

Resident Evil 6

I've already spoken of the myriad failings of Resident Evil 6 at length here so I'll just say this: Resident Evil 5 was an incredible symphony mechanics, balance, and design. RE6 is a cacophony of dissonant ideas from developers completely tone-deaf to the successes of RE5.

Runner-up: Darksiders II

The Amazon.com Game to Pay Full-Price For and Not Play of the Year

Zone of the Enders HD Collection

As a person with a history of giving up food in favor of games, I have become more and more aware of my ever-growing pile of shame. In recent years, I have managed to crack down on my erroneous purchases for the most part, but every once in a while a few games slip through the cracks in my psyche despite the fact that I KNOW I will either not play them until they hit the bargain bins or not at all. This year, that game was Zone of the Enders HD Collection.

But what sets ZoEHD apart from the rest of the pack is my amazing ability to rationalize my poor life-choice. You see, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is one of my favorite games of all time and still the best example of high-speed, anime mech combat in a game to date. So where is Zone of the Enders 3? WHERE KOJIMA!? You keep teasing me but all you make is Metal Gear games! I want my Jehuty! I want my Anubis! I want my ADA!

So while I may never actually crack open the case and insert disc, hopefully my expenditure is the one push Konami needs to greenlight the next game in the series.

Runner-up: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Game of the Year

The Walking Dead

This game has been talked to death, so I'll just say this. In all my time playing video games, I have never experienced a story so effectively affecting. The Walking Dead sets a new standard for interactive storytelling and player-choice that is going to be incredibly tough for anyone to top. I know I can't wait for the rest of the games industry to try.

Goodbye Clem, and good luck. I'm going to miss you.

Runners-up: 2. Persona 4: Golden, 3. Diablo III, 4. Mass Effect 3, 5. Borderlands 2, 6. Asura's Wrath, 7. Persona 4 Arena, 8. Binary Domain, 9. XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 10. Sleeping Dogs


Went to Five Guys for the First Time, Left with a Broken Brain

Ok, sorry, I just need to get this out of my brain. Bear with me.

I've always been an In-N-Out guy, there was one two blocks from my high school which should be illegal, and was actually completely oblivious to the existence of Five Guys until I started coming to Giant Bomb. After moving to West LA earlier this Summer I finally found one of their locations in a nearby mall and today I decided I'd see what all the contentious bickering was about.

Transcending history and the world, a tale of Swords and Souls eternally retold

So I go there, I'm checking out the menu, and I'm thinking to myself "Awesome, look at all those toppings. I love toppings!" I go up to the guy and tell him it's my first time eating at Five Guys. He tells me the standard burgers come with 2 patties so I order a cheeseburger with everything plus green peppers and BBQ soss. Now if I was only hungry enough for a sandwich, everything would have ended hunky dory. That was not the case.

You see, as a lifelong frequenter of In-N-Out, I've become a devoted fan of fries served "animal style." For the uninitiated, animal style fries are fries served covered in cheese, grilled onions, and In-N-Out's secret sauce (namely Thousand Islands dressing). So you can imagine how intrigued I was as a topping lover, eating a joint that seemed to be all about the toppings, when under sides I see I can order my fries "Five Guys Style."


In eager anticipation I asked the guy, "So what are 'Five Guys Style' fries?"

He looked at me, looked sideways at the menu, and said, "Well, for the 'Five Guys Style' fries we put salt on them."

I tried to force my brain to hear an ellipsis as I waited for him to regale me with the cornucopia of toppings my fries could bring me if I ordered the fabled "Five Guys Style" fries, but no more words came. That was it, nothing more, Full Stop.

Have you ever had a time when your brain was having so much trouble reconciling reality with common sense that you burst out in mad laughter? Well, I can tell you I barely kept my shit together as I completed my order, paid, then abandoned my fiance waiting for the food to find a place to change my daughter's diaper.

I mean, what the fuck? WHAT THE FUCK? They might as well start calling their fountain drinks "Five Guys Style" because they put them in a cup with ice. Are their burgers "Five Guys Style" because they're made with meat? FUCK. Putting salt on your food isn't a "style," it's cooking 101 ie "seasoning your goddam food so it doesn't taste like shit."

Look out fellas, you're all jockin' Five Guys's "Style"!

Anyways, the food was alright but I think I'm still an In-N-Out guy. Toppings are great, but not 2.5x the cost great. Thanks for reading, I needed to get that out of my system.

Oh, and I got the cajun fries instead.


Less Than the Sum of Its Parts: The Mechanical Dissonance of RE6

(I know the timeliness of this blog is a bit off, but various real-life issues and my continued obsessions with Borderlands 2 and X-Com prevented me from finishing it last weekend. Since I had already put a decent chunk of time in it I figured it would be a waste not to wrap it up, so here it is.)

What was it about Resident Evil 5 that got people like me, the Achievement/Trophy-ambivalent crowd, to play it over and over again, S-Ranking it almost by accident? It certainly wasn't the story. I have no problems appreciating campy fun, but once-through should be enough for anyone. No, what it came down to was the gameplay: the purity of experience only possible when every key system and mechanic hums together in perfect harmony. Capcom, in particular, has excelled at delivering this balance of design throughout the years from Mega Man to Street Fighter to Devil May Cry to Monster Hunter.

So what happened to RE6? Where did Capcom lose the plot and, in their attempt to please everyone, end up pleasing almost no one? It's easy to decry the "actionification" of the series and speak of nebulous things like "feel," but we need to know exactly what went wrong before we start talking about how to make it right. And before we can do that, we need to understand the symphony that was RE5.

Controller Meet Hand, Hand Meet Controller

Right now I imagine I sound crazy to some of you. After all, RE5 was also heavily criticized for the way it controlled. Moving like a tank and having to stand still to aim your gun seemed incredibly backwards for a shooter in 2009. What most people don't realize is that RE5 wasn't a shooter at all (despite what Capcom marketing might have wanted you to believe); rather it was a strategy game more akin to a real-time version of Valkyria Chronicles.

Like this but fewer tanks

*record scratch*

You heard me. The controls, systems, enemy behaviors, and environmental designs combined to create a metered, tactical gameplay loop focused on resource management and efficiency.

The RE series has been moving further and further away from the horror genre since RE4, but survival was still the name of the game all the way throughout RE5. Enemies in RE5 hit hard, would absorb tons of bullets unless you were targeting the right place, and health and ammo were limited. This all would have been bad news bears if not for three key things: the enemies, the environments, and the shooting.


Fair and balanced

The Majini were tough to kill. A few shots to the head did the trick, but the only thing a full clip to the chest got you was an angrier Majini. In a world where bullets weren't hanging off of every tree and a strict inventory system forced players to carefully pick and choose between versatility and longevity, it was a blessing that the enemies were so single-minded in their purpose. Their pace was slow and their approach direct, giving you a very clear timer in which to land the shots you needed. The threat was real and if you missed a few shots you were in trouble, but as long as you stayed calm and played smart, standing still wasn't a problem.


Of course staying calm and playing smart would have been moot if enemies were spawning right on top of you and you had limited space to work with. Thankfully the designers of RE5 thought of this and almost every environment was perfectly tailored for the encounter. Major battles took place in large arenas designed with obstacles to impede enemy movement without obstructing the player's aim. These areas offered looping paths for players that wanted to kite or bottlenecks for players that wanted to stand their ground. The environment was a tool players could use as they saw fit to take full advantage of their particular load-out.


Like a rock

These various elements wrapped up as a cohesive package of sublime gameplay in the hands of the player, thanks to the shooting. Sure, Chris and Sheva may have moved like tanks, but they also shot like tanks with a mechanical precision. There were no aiming reticles showing you the general area through which your bullets were flying, there was a laser sight that painted a big red dot on the exact spot you were going to hit. It was exactly what players needed to tackle each scenario as the tactical combat-puzzle it was meant to be.

RE6 Meet Controller, Controller Meet Wall

Unfortunately, it seems the designers of RE6 either lost focus or were completely unaware of what made RE5 so great to begin with, and as a result we are left with a game that is the worst possible combination of survival and shooter. Enemies still hit hard, can still take a lickin', and ammo and health pickups may have been increased but are a far cry from abundant.


The new J'avo are even tougher than the BOW's that came before. They come with head armor by default and actually become stronger if you happen to shoot them in the wrong place. They would much rather duck and weave and shoot as they wait for you to hit them in the arm so they can transform and charge into melee range while using their mutated arms to cover their face.


The pillars!

Unfortunately, the much more linear, cramped environments of RE6 are constantly getting in the way as you try to take your enemies down intelligently. The increased emphasis on shooting means that every area is full of various forms of cover, cover which exists for the sole purpose of obstructing aim. Navigating the environment is rarely an option as it doesn't take very many enemy bullets to permanently lose a chunk off your health bar, but standing your ground is also difficult unless you're willing to waste most/all your ammo trying to take out the melee J'avo before they reach you.


And you're going to waste ammo. A lot of ammo. Because in addition to the faster enemies and cramped environments, the developers felt like RE6 needed one more feature to make it feel more shootery: aim variance/sway. The concept of an aiming reticle is simple: rather than indicate a point of contact for your bullets, a reticle designates the general area through which your bullets will fly. This is a thing that shooters do and so, with a total disregard for the experience of the player, a reticle was forcibly inserted into RE6. In order to "balance" this, the optional laser-sight that was rock-solid in RE4 and 5 now swims across the screen as if Chris and Leon have since been struck by some sort of degenerative nerve condition.

One Wrong Note

There was something magical about the way the various elements of RE5 came together to form a shooting experience that actually felt suited for a console (yes, I'm one of those Mouse & Keyboard snobs that finds games like Halo and Gears frustratingly boring). And maybe these faster enemies and cramped environments wouldn't have felt so bad on their own despite the laughable inclusion of "moving while shooting" that is so slow, you might as well be standing still. It's the loss of precision that has changed RE from a math problem, something with a solution that can be approached intellectually, to a dice-roll gamble every time you pull the trigger.

Can RE rise from the ashes?

If RE5 is a symphony then RE6 is a cacophony, a wall of contrary noises forced to play simultaneously, assailing the senses in a manner devoid of any foresight or forethought. It straddles the line between RE5 and console-shooter, inheriting qualities of both but the virtues of neither. Is it the worst game ever made? Certainly not, and considered objectively, it's not the utter disaster most video game coverage outlets and internet forum-goers are making it out to be. But as a Resident Evil game it completely misses the mark, stripping key qualities from the experience in an ill-conceived courting with mainstream appeal.

Resident Evil will return, and when it does it will be on a new set of shiny boxes. Hopefully Capcom will get the message and make sure that someone in a position of power understands that mechanics for the sake of mechanics does not a good game make. I'm available on a contract basis.


Playstation All-Stars: How Mechanics Define Games Within a Genre

Ripoff n. a blatant or unscrupulous copy or imitation

Last week the internet was jostled by Kamiya and his condemnation of Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (PAS) as a rip-off of Smash Bros. This blew my mind. I've always respected Kamiya as a mechanics guy, I mean look at the way his games play. As someone who gets his kicks digging deep into systems, the myriad ways that PAS is decidedly NOT a rip-off of Smash seem glaringly obvious. So Hideki Kamiya, allow me to educate you.

Parallels within a genre

As the medium has grown, genres have been free to develop their own sets of best practices, various bits of design that remain a near constant between games regardless of developer. Take the fighting game genre for example. Pick up any fighting game from the past decade and chances are you're going to have two life bars on top, a timer in between, and more often than not a pair of super meters in the bottom corners. On your controller up will jump and down will crouch. For defense you're either going to be holding back or a dedicated block button.

Throws will beat blocks, blocks will beat attacks, and attacks will beat throws. Attacks will be divided into start-up, active, and recovery frames. Your character will have a hitbox and a hurtbox. And more likely than not, at some point you will be rolling your directional pad/joystick from down to down-forward to forward and pressing a button to get an attack. Bonus points if that attack happens to be a projectile and you used it to truncate the recovery animation of your previous attack.

None of these games is just like the others

Pick up any racing game and you know which shoulder button to press for gas and for brake. Somewhere on the screen you're going to find a minimap giving you a preview of the upcoming track. These things have become standard for a reason, because they work and they work well and they work best. You know what happens when a current-era-army-shooting-from-a-first-person-perspective game comes out and LT/L2 ISN'T ironsights. People throw a fit, and for good reason.

That's the great thing about working in an established genre. You have the work of thousands of people trying to make the best experience possible to use as reference. Ignoring that collective wisdom would be irresponsible and, quite frankly, stupid.

Of course the PAS situation is a little bit trickier. Outside of Power Stone (and a few blips not worth mentioning *koff* Onimusha: Blade Warriors *koff*), the arena fighting genre has been largely defined by a single franchise, Super Smash Bros. While quantity shouldn't matter, this significantly smaller playing field makes it easier to make comparisons and cry foul. But if we look a little closer, we can see that the mechanical divide between PAS and Smash is actually so large that in a more crowded category, each game could be considered part of a different sub-genre.

How are they similar?

Of course that isn't an entirely accurate assessment. In fighting games it has always been easier to split them up as 2D vs. 3D. But what about a genre where no matter the style of game, the playing field is going to be more or less the same like say, the driving genre?

Modern driving games are interesting in that, no matter their race, color, or creed, they're always going to be played from the same perspective. Whether it's carting, arcade, or simulation, the camera is going to be placed behind and slightly above the vehicle (with an optional cockpit/hood cam thrown in on occasion). The gas button and analog stick/D-pad will always be your primary way of interacting with the game liberally seasoned with brake or e.brake, boost, and shoot buttons. There will always be a mini-map somewhere on screen to let you know about your current position and a timer during race events.

Outside of the motion blur and flames, these games look pretty similar

The same parallels exist between PAS and Smash. Both games are played from a pulled-out side view of a 2d playing field. Your analog stick controls your movement and you use your buttons to whip out attacks, blocks, and grabs. On the bottom of the screen space is allotted to inform players of their current status as well as the status of their opponents. But that's where the games diverge.

What makes them different?

So how do you differentiate games like these? Much like the above example of GT5 vs Hot Pursuit, it comes down to mechanics.

In GT it's all about playing conservatively and controlled, following your line and waiting until the perfect moment to make a pass. Similarly, Smash is a position-based game that favors intelligent defensive play. Because of the % system, the only hit that really matters is the last one that scores the KO. This means that you actually derive more of a strategic advantage from avoiding combat altogether

In a 4-man FFA, every time you hit an opponent three players benefit: yourself and your two other opponents. In the cold calculus of the battlefield you are working to give a total of +2 advantage between your opponents while only earning +1 advantage for yourself. The deficit this leaves you at is compounded by the fact that you are now at risk of taking hits yourself which benefits all of your opponents. Tactical play of Smash involves avoiding conflict and pushing your opponents toward conflict with each other (made especially easy in a game designed around attacks that knock your opponent away), taking safe potshots from far away, and waiting for the crucial moment when you can swoop in and land a decisive smash.

Link has the right idea

On the flip side, Hot Pursuit is much more about aggressive risk-taking: drifting, oncoming, near-miss madness to build up boost to go even more dangerously fast. PAS is capturing a similar feeling by making the change from % based ring-outs to a super-meter system. Under this system, the one player benefits when you hit your enemy: you. Also the downsides of getting hit are significantly smaller since you're only worrying about the enemy doing the hitting getting closer to their own KO's, not every enemy on the field.

In a way, this almost makes PAS more true to the names Brawl and Melee. This focus on maintaining an effective offense is facilitated further by the introduction of combos. Unlike Smash where almost every attack is a one-off sort of thing that knocks your opponent away and allows them to reset to a neutral state before you can follow up, characters in PAS will be able to execute true combo strings of multiple attacks keeping your opponent in hit-stun. Sony even went as far as to include an infinite prevention system in the game. That's how far these combos might go.

It's almost as if PSA is MvC3 and Smash is a version of MK9 where every non-special attack is an uppercut.

Situations like this should be much more common in PAS

In conclusion (TL;DR)

All the games in the Smash series are great, and a lot of that comes from intelligent design in terms of UI and controls. It's true that Sony borrowed a lot from Nintendo in this regard to make PAS, but game genres are incestuous as all get-out so this should come as no surprise. When you take a moment to consider the mechanics and the different ways they influence gameplay it should become clear that PAS is no more a ripoff of Smash than MK is a ripoff of SFII than Burnout is a ripoff of Gran Turismo.

Fuck man, video games.