Saturday Summaries 2018-09-15: Ranking of Fighters EX Turbo Edition

I want to make one thing clear first of all: I really enjoy Giant Bomb West's Ranking of Fighters feature, even as someone who doesn't care for fighting games or watching them for extended periods. The additional layer to the format - ranking these games in a specific order based on "scientific" considerations - rises them above the standard LP format, and I appreciate how much Jeff, Jason and Ben appreciate and understand the genre.

Never forget. That's why Warren looks like this: he can't forget either.
Never forget. That's why Warren looks like this: he can't forget either.

However, and maybe this speaks more to what I find compelling about these games, what I'd like is if they incorporated sort of a side-ranking format where they take the best fighter from each game - whether they have the best visual design, they're the most fun to play as, or simply the weirdest - and have an independent but parallel "ranking of characters" which may involve an entirely different order from the game list. Power Moves is destined for the lowest echelons of the overall rankings, but I'd bet Warren would be pretty high up on a separate character chart. Ditto for Ten Count and Battle Arena Toshinden 3. Such a format is rife with complications, of course - how would you avoid picking the same "best character" from multiple games with either the same or greatly overlapping rosters, like the many The King of Fighters and Street Fighter games? - but the unsung heroes of the feature are those characters that manages to capture the hearts and minds of our scientist trio. Or, in those unfortunately common scenarios where the games are risible messes with little to commend them, picking a terrible character that best exemplifies the sort of tragedy in motion that we're looking at.

If not a separate list for these champions (or "champions" as the case may be), how about more representation in the main table? Each could become the avatar of their specific game, their portrait icons displayed proudly alongside the names of their respective games. I think it would help the scientific process to have a visual reminder of that game's best character, even if it ends up being impossible to pick a favorite or facing the possibility of a dozen Terry faces jamming up the works as the list grows ever more complete. Like I said, the appeal of the characters is largely the draw for me whenever I play a fighter game; I beat their single-player modes not because I enjoy playing as specific characters, at least usually no more or less than anyone else in the roster, but because I want to see how their stories turn out. It'll be a lot of work for poor Jan to implement this "champions" avatar aspect to the existing list, but I think it might serve to make the games on the list stand out more and be more memorable - especially for the more forgettable titles like Martial Masters and Critical Blow.

When I'm not offering dumb ideas to "improve" Giant Bomb features, I'm focusing on my own. Here's what I've been up to this week:

  • The Indie Game of the Week was Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island, a loving Indie non-specific homage to the 3D collectathon platformers of the N64/PS2 era as a whole. We're seeing more and more of these and I couldn't be happier; I find them very cathartic, in much the same way that running around chasing icons on the map of an open-world game does. It also helps when they have bright and cheerful visuals, a goofy sense of humor, a certain degree of challenge that never steps past the boundaries of Frustration City, and that all-important combination of concise controls and clearly-defined traversable territory. It's a bit buggy and a lot short, but you could do worse than this cat and bird team.
  • This week also sees the conclusion of Mento Gear Rising: Revenge Jests, the second half of my trouble-fraught Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance playthrough. I really didn't do well against that final boss and, after watching a couple of other LPs (one of which was our own Dan and Drew), I'm not quite sure why. The game is exceedingly fair on Normal difficulty, far more so than Platinum's other games (I suspect they softened the challenge for the sake of visiting MGS fans, like how Persona Arena's story mode was easy-peasy rather than the nightmare of gauges and systems that Arc Systems Works' various other anime fighters tend to be) and highly entertaining to boot. Rest assured, some bad experiences did not sour the game's high notes of lunacy or its loop of evisceration and spine-ripping as a whole.


Movie: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

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The only thing I knew about this movie going in was that it had a sci-fi thriller twist - in fact, I regularly used to get it confused with Source Code, beyond who starred in what - which is why I've endeavored to never read more about it in the eight or so years since it came out. The reason for that being that it was adapted from a Phillip K. Dick short story, not unlike other thrillers with a sci-fi edge like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Screamers, etc. - all movies that, while they have different directors at the helm, share a certain urgency and format. Hero discovers the world isn't what he thought it was, goes on the lam, eventually uncovers the truth, maybe lives happily ever after. The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon as would-be senator David Norris and Emily Blunt as the mysterious Elise whom David encounters in a fateful meetcute, certainly has those elements - especially the running around part - but on the whole actually feels more like a romantic drama with a magical realism aspect.

To back up a moment, David and Elise exist in a version of Earth where a group of immortal paranormal operators - heavily hinted to be angels, though they claim they have lots of names - are guiding the destinies of important humans to ensure that humanity doesn't destroy itself. They have a specific plan to follow, created by "the Chairman", and carefully adjust reality and our actions to ensure that plan comes to pass. David and Elise meeting was part of the plan, but them meeting a second time was not; instead, a clerical mistake means they meet again by chance, and David learns of the adjustment bureau's existence after they're forced to intervene. From there the whole movie becomes David's romantic quest to defy fate and the plans of higher beings to be together with this charming, down-to-earth woman to whom he's drawn. Though it's not really a comedy, I'd put it in the same ballpark as Groundhog Day - it's a movie that begins with an intriguing fantasy premise, and then becomes a more traditional love story. Not a bad thing by any stretch - it's pleasantly wholesome to have a Phillip K. Dick adaptation that doesn't involve cops with puke sticks, a rotoscoped Alex Jones, or a guy getting stabbed in the dick by a Martian prostitute - and the two central performances are well acted. Both the script and the actor in question would have to work hard to create the kind of woman you'd defy the angels to be with, and Emily Blunt manages that with her refreshing frankness and easygoing chemistry with the otherwise uptight Senatorial candidate Damon plays.

I have seen the trailer since watching the movie and I can see how I got the wrong end of the (puke) stick: the trailer has more of a Dark City vibe and definitely plays up the adjustment bureau as sinister and manipulative (the movie gives them more credit, even if you're compelled - as Norris more or less is - to tell them where to stick their theoretical halos) and Norris as being in more peril than he actually is. I mean, they do threaten to wipe his brain, but after a point they just come off as extraterrestrial feds with day jobs who are bummed out by how this one horny mortal keeps making their lives more complicated. The two main angels, John Slattery and Anthony Mackie, are now of course better known for their roles in the Marvel universe - made funnier by the fact that Mackie plays a superhero whose main ability is to fly around with a pair of wings. After this, I'm running out of K. Dick movie adaptations: the only major ones left are the Ben Affleck movie Paycheck and the Nic Cage movie Next, neither of which have a particularly great reputation. Fortunately, there are plenty of other sci-fi movies out there that I've been meaning to see.

Game: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2018)

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I talked about the general RPG trope of playing multiple factions against the middle for maximum gain and Deadfire's surprisingly deep AI-driven combat last week. This time, I figured I'd talk about the other big change to the game from Pillars of Eternity 1 and 2: how overworld exploration works and the myriad ways the game delivers its content, often in slyly cost-effective ways.

The big shift of Deadfire is that it's set in the titular Deadfire Archipelago; a large island chain to the southeast of the previous game's setting of Dyrwood. It's populated mostly by aumaua - the shark-like humanoids who were represented in the last game by your genial poet companion Kana - though there's a strong presence of the Vailian Republics, a mercantile organization from the south, and Old Vailia, the outdated empire that the Vailian Republics originally belonged to and from which the game sees most of its organized pirates. Because it's a big ocean with scattered landmasses, much of the game takes place on your ship - the Defiant. A great deal of the game's mechanics and attention are given over to the workings of this ship, which not only acts as your chief means of conveyance but also a moving home base of sorts. You have to carefully consider its arsenal of cannons, its crew, its sails and steerage, and even its anchor and lanterns. You can upgrade to bigger ships with more cannon bays but slower maneuvering - I don't think it's impossible to beat the game with the zippy starting ship, even if it gets massively outgunned by galleons and junks - but it costs an exorbitant amount of money. What's more, the game has a completely different system for ship-to-ship combat.

I want to talk about that briefly before getting into the other exploration modes. Ship combat is driven entirely by menus, and operates similarly to the node turn-based structure that Skies of Arcadia uses. Specifically, everything you do counts as an action (sometimes two or three, if you're trying to maneuver a larger ship around), and each combatant ship alternates these actions. There are also various timers at play like how long it takes to reload the cannons after a volley. This means you can sometimes predict what the enemy will do on their next turn and adjust accordingly - if they're about to fire, you can spend the preceding turn bracing for the impact to half the incoming damage, or if they look like they're about to start running away you can turn around to chase after them. Primarily, however, you want to adjust your ship so that the port or starboard side is facing the enemy, and then let loose with your cannons and then jibe (as in, turn 180 degrees) to hit them with the cannons on the other side while your first set are still reloading. However, you also have to deal with special conditions that occasionally proc when you get attacked (and, likewise, the enemy has to deal with these events too): if your ship catches fire, or cargo/crewmates fall off, or a crewmate gets hurt, or the keel of the ship starts flooding - each of these requires moving sailors from their current positions to a place where they can solve the problem quickly before it gets worse, not unlike how damage control works in FTL: Faster Than Light. This turns every ship battle into a potential chain reaction of bad news, as you're forced to slow your assault to deal with issues which in turn offers the enemy a window of opportunity to give you even more problems to deal with - however, the reverse is true also, and I've entered a battle against a much stronger opponent and got the drop on them immediately with a lucky hit that forced them to run around the deck putting out fires while I slowly whittled away at their massive amount of hull armor. It's all very exciting, and despite being partially luck-based if you keep your head and take care of disasters quickly when they arise you can still come out on top even after some bad rolls.

A long-term side-quest involves finding uncharted islands, exploring them thoroughly, and getting to name them. This one had a temple to the God of Mysteries, Wael, and really all this proves is that I'm someone who should not be allowed to name anything.
A long-term side-quest involves finding uncharted islands, exploring them thoroughly, and getting to name them. This one had a temple to the God of Mysteries, Wael, and really all this proves is that I'm someone who should not be allowed to name anything.

When you reach a map node in your ship or on foot, one of three things can occur: you'll either get a certain amount of supplies then and there (this is true for oases, which gives you a large amount of fresh water, and fruit tree groves); you'll get the option to spend time exploring for a random assortment of items; or you'll be taken to one of the game's many book frameworks. The book framework is where the game gets all text-heavy and provides some multiple choice answers that may or may not include additional options if certain requirements are met - usually character stats or skills such as diplomacy or mechanics, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, these encounters are resolved within this "choose your adventure" text format, though if it leads to a battle or a location to explore you'll be taken to the game's Infinity Engine-style traditional top-down view instead. What this means is that the game cleverly deals with situations with the amount of graphical and level design work that they warrant: if you're meeting with a character in some random clearing, there's no need to create it all with the map editor if it's not going to lead to a battle where positioning and such is important. Likewise, not every abandoned ruins has to be full of monsters - it's relatively rare for a crypt to have zombies and skeletons skulking around it given the unusual forces that would need to be at work to create them, which I guess is fair enough - so instead it plays out the usual RPG looting process with a more pragmatic method. It's another example of the game's smart and cost-effective approach to streamlining: ensuring that everything it trims is fat, leaving only the quality meat behind. I've been playing for over 50 hours now, so there's still plenty to the game even if it resolves a great deal of its encounters through this minimalized text format.

That's going to do it for this update. I still have a ways to go in Deadfire, but I was planning on playing other backlog items this month (as in, games that aren't specifically linked to blog features). I've actually been eyeing my Wii U copy of Hyrule Warriors as a potential "podcast game" - Deadfire has a lot of flowery text to read, which makes podcasts too distracting - and considering whether or not to follow Deadfire with yet another RPG from my large pile of them, or cleanse the palette with something smaller. I'll let you know next week, where we'll also take a look at another duo of SNES games and a new Indie Game of the Week. See you all then.