Monday, September 7, 2009

Battle High Test Version Now Available!

I helped design a fighting game. Its first release since I was signed on to the project has become available here. Check it out and be sure to report bugs and game issues.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Battle of Archaic - A Review

After a fantastic surprise Birthday party and another one the day before (back to back, ingenious planning) I received a slew of gifts. Too many, even. You see, despite the fact that I am in the summer season, most of my day is generally revolved around other people, so free time is not something I generally have. That and summer classes...

One of the gifts I received was slightly gag-infested - a copy of Chrono Trigger for Nintendo DS. For whatever reason, it was recommended by someone that I should get this "great game." I played the game years ago, never felt impressed, and with my current disposition toward RPGs in general (hate) laughing ensued. I was quickly given a receipt to return the game for something of similar value. Long story short, that game was Rygar: The Battle of Argus for Nintendo Wii.

For RPG fans rolling in their own bodily fluids at my gesture towards a "classic," I have nothing to say. I can only justify my purchase toward a game no one cares about; I had been following the (development?) hype of Rygar on Wii for a while - a port of what seems like a good game in the vein of God of War. I hestitated toward getting it on launch due to the vast abundance of lackluster reviews, but at the expense of trading a gift in to Play-N-Trade (free) I was able to form my own opinion on the game, knowing how I tend to disagree with every commercial entertainment review site (MGS4 and GTA4 are NOT perfect video games).

The skinny: I cannot on any grounds recommend Rygar: TBOA to anyone. I can't tell you how great the story is because it sucks. I can't exclaim how much the voice acting is laughibly terrible or really well done - it falls dully inbetween the two extremes. I can't come to your house and show you the awesome display of graphical prowess this game has - it looks like a dated Dreamcast game. I can't even tell you that the gameplay is utterly fantastic because, honestly, the controls are sluggish and non-conforming to former video game traditions (Canceling moves into others) and the core of the game, which is beating the crap out of people with a chained-shield, is unsatisfying to say the least. There is no reason why you would spend your hard earned money on this aged media of entertainment.

Unless you are me.

Rygar harkens back to something few gamers will either remember or appreciate. Back in a time when 3D graphics were just starting to look impressive and 3rd-party developers were tapping into the magic of Super Mario 64's atmosphere, developers were ambitious with their titles. Every game worth its salt in advertising was at least interesting, if not unique or inspired. Today we are filled with shovelware (Wii), penis-enlarging graphics and online (X360) and the games best played in our dreams (PS3). While we had all those thins when Playstation 2 thrived, the headliner was always "Too many good games on one console: What do we do?" Prior to this era, I owned a Playstation and Nintendo 64, only feeling that the latter's flagship title utilized 3D space in an interesting way that merited the change in gameplay. It was fun to swim underwater and wall jump the castle grounds. No other game, until the 128-bit era, made me feel that way. Rygar, in no reasonable fashion, makes me feel this way, but the developers were trying to make a game that felt alive while being scripted and action oriented. Rygar is the love child of hungry developers, with the beckoning 200 Mhz CPU of the Sony Playstation 2, eager to make an engaging interactive journey only made possible with (then) state of the art technology. In more elegant words: to make what couldn't be made before.

To further illustrate my point, I'll tell you one of my prized stories of youth. When I first purchased my Playstation 2, I only had two games - Metal Gear Solid 2 and Final Fantasy X. I knew a few people who really loved the system and would let me borrow games. At the time, I was really interested in how some of my favorite franchises branched out - one of which was Resident Evil. A friend let me borrow his copy of Veronica X and I played it for a total of (drumroll) 40 minutes. Whatever love I had toward the frachise was missing - it felt the same as RE2 but with no enhancement to gameplay. I took the game out of my console in disgust, only to find an additional demo disc in the game case.

Those of you savy enough to remember or simply use google will know that demo was one of the best games on PS2. I didn't know that when I popped it in and I can honestly say I had never spent so much time playing a 3 level demo in my life. It was so much fun to be in this gothic world filled with demons and a little bit of mystery. Unfortunately I can't say the same for the rest of the franchise, but the premier title is still one of my most treasured games in my library. The fixed camera, high-action gameplay, clever platforming... all of it is represented here in Rygar for Wii.

Yes, the game is nothing more than a port with a few slapped on features and costume changes. If I was a fan of the original game, I'd probably be pissed at Tecmo for rehashing it to the Wii with crappy "waggle" gimmicks to create false longevity for the game. But as someone who missed it the first time around and is a huge fan of God of War and Devil May Cry, I love this game. For one, it has a fantastic soundtrack - fully orchestrated in a slight Baroque manner. I am a bit of a music snob and I have found a lot of games try too hard at being "epic" with their scores or do the Michael Bay approach - Rygar escapes these societal complaints with thorough interlaced harmonies and Romantic leitmotifs. The game also has a lot of exploration for a DMC clone - something think video games should delve into more. Tunnels, dungeons and overworlds all make Rygar more than a mission based combo-fest like DMC3. Add a very cool Roman theme, some interesting art design and multiple disk-armors to equip, the game is pretty engaging if you give it the time of day.

Yes, the game is horribly aged and for that reason I cannot recommend it. But if you happen to be a clone of myself, are hungry for no-frills action gaming and can overlook some design flaws, Devil May Cry 1 is for you. 2nd place goes to Rygar: The Battle of Argus.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Way of Visual Appeal and Longevity

"Good games are not marked by their visual appeal, but rather their depth and ability to please gamers as participants of interactive media." - Yours Truly.

Chances are, if you are a gamer, you know at least ONE person in your circle of friends that has said something along the lines of the above. In this case, it is myself. As much as I wish this was 100% true, I do have to make an appendage to the stated claim - despite how much we may try to deny or overemphasize graphic's importance, it is the graphics (sometimes mainly the visual style/appeal) that can hook and sometimes keep gamers' attention. I am going to chronicle the Street Fighter series in juxtaposition to popular and competitive audiences reacting to the visual appeal of the games.

Street Fighter 4. The latest installment of Street Fighter is looking pretty good - not because of a high-end graphics engine, but because of a slick style and sharp presentation. Bright colors, vivid character expressions, flashy Ultra combo animations - all of these lend to a very satisfying visual experience. Because of this success in presenting the Street Fighter essence, the game is a hit with both competitive players and casual players. But it goes a little deeper than simply stating the game looks pretty. Gamers with HD televisions are lucky to have the full visual experience, as it is comparable to the arcade set up arcade players experience. Here, we see a congruency in the visual representation - both games look the same.

Let's take Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, a 15 year old stalemate in the SF2 saga. It has stood the test of time because of its depth in competitive environments, not through casual popularity. In fact, most casual SF fans or fans of fighting games in general believe Street Fighter 2' Hyper Fighting is superior. While arguments of balance may come into play in this debate (this writer takes the viewpoint that SSF2T has the most varied gameplay which takes precedence over balance) what is important to note is the common casual complaints of the visual design of the game. The announcer's voice is always on top of the list, with more sophisticated complaints stemming at mixture of dated visuals with enhanced backgrounds, while others even going further to claim Hyper Fighting was a better looking game altogether. Jeff Gerstmann, slightly renown video game guru and reviewer, is a represenative of these complaints.

What is important to note here, and I apologize for not finding a better seque into this chunk of information, is the difference between an arcade setting, which is mostly dedicated to the competitive audience, and the console/home setting which is aimed at the casual audience. Arcade monitors display colors very differently from a regular tube TV - Colors tend to be brighter and any pixelation is "blinded" by the inherent scanlines on the arcade monitor. So we can possibly assess that SSF2T looks very different from arcade to console, no matter how perfect the port job or emulation is. Also note the atmosphere of the arcade - mostly dimly lit with loud music in the background and usually a substantial amount of games being played at once. Through this we see that it is more than likely arcade gamers won't even be able to hear the annoying announcer's voice and the brightly lit screen comes as even more vibrant against the dark shadows of the arcade cabinet. What we have are two clear illustrations of two different ways to experience the same game (save me the specifics, ST nerds), which brings about two different viewpoints on the game - casuals don't like ST while those who grew up in the arcade still play it today.

From SSF2T to SSF2T:HDR. To save on length of this article and time reading on development issues, HD Remix is a redrawn version of SSF2T with a new soundtrack, a pretty good netplay option, and a rebalanced mode catered to the hardcore fans. HDR fixes the problems casual gamers had with SSF2T's visuals and suddenly everyone is a fan of this dated classic. Even Jeff Gerstmann, although he is not saved by claiming his astonishment comes from smart balance changes (no one can say that the week a FG drops). HDR looks good for the casual audience and now it is a hit. Some might say it is the balanced mode that sealed the deal, but I'd wager that the casual players wouldn't care - a redrawn version of a Street Fighter game nobody played will seem like a new game regardless.

Lastly, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. A lot of people love this game. There is no denying the complexity, execution, and guessing-games in it that keep the game wildly popular among both casual and competitive fans. It does have complaints - many can be articulately stated by this man - which range from imbalance to nullification of SF-trademark fireballs, but it constantly builds in popularity. My proposed reasoning behind this phenomena - SF3 also looks really good on both arcade and console.

Fliud animation, big characters, vibrant colors and detailed stages (though not as much as 2nd Impact) all lend this game to being a showstopper. The first time I saw this game I was stunned; as a heavy player in ST, I still sometimes look at the game in awe in comparison to other fighters. Few 2d games look so good. Sure, GGXXAC has a more balanced, more vivid visual flare and a few new games (BlazBlue, KOFXII) might trump SF3 even more, but the balance between animation, ease of use (6 buttons as opposed to 4,5) is truly unmatched. Not only that, but despite a heavy anime influence in SF3, 3s is mature looking in theme and has a bad-ass announcer, which can't be said for SSF2T:HDR's dumbed down color scaling and autistic-sounding announcer. This isn't your brother's SF2 - this is SF3.

So, before closing, I want everyone to know that it was very hard for me to recognize these differences in graphical prowess and cultural semiotics - I am usually blind to that sort of thing. However, I don't think many people can argue againts my points, unless they have more confirmable data than I do. In that case, I fold.

Otherwise, happy gaming.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Like Vanilla

Like sugar cookies, I find my taste buds flourish in simple sugary treats. The easy to digest glucose is nearly instantaneous and wonderful in every respect. Maybe that is why I really enjoy Vanilla ST over SSF2THDR.

Puns aside, it seems SSF2THDR has some balance issues. I had worries upon release of the game, but I didn't want to voice them lest any new developments came to the interweb news of Fighting Games. Unfortunately, I was correct in my worry - more developments have proved there are more hazardous matchups than I had anticipated.

I love ST. It isn't perfect, but goddamn it is fun and exciting. In no other game do I feel like Guile or Ryu, using offensive strategies to create defensive walls for my opponents to penetrate. Every single character has really interesting tools which set ST apart from a more balanced game, Hyper Fighting. It seems like David Sirlin and Seth Killian had this all in mind for HD Remix, more so than myself. While Sirlin wooed me by stating mesianic mission to balance ST more than it is already is, Seth had something different to say.

I can get behind Seth on this one, but I can't help but feel massively betrayed by Sirlin as well as sneakily beaten in logic by Capcom. You see, Akuma is still WAY too good in HDR. His hotboxes are just plain obnoxious. It would seem he is due for a patch or banning by the SRK community. But after Damdai's amazing pilgrimmage, the Evo heads are calling it all a bluff. Even after handily beating Valle and Choi online, still Mr. Wizard is against banning Akuma at Evo. We cry injustice - HDR is supposed to be "balanced." And here Seth tells us it doesn't have to be.

Fine. I'll buy all of it. I am cool with this injustice. Just don't fool me again, Capcom.