Not Too Long From Now, in a Galaxy Very Very Close

4 05 2016

Really excited to announce that our studio is working on a new project in the Star Wars universe. Check out the full posting here on our new official website:

http://www.respawn.com/stig-blog/





2015 Top 10 Gaming Favorites

13 01 2016

2015 has been a phenomenal year for games; among the best in memory. Whittling down a top 10 list was no easy feat with so many heavy-hitting anticipated titles spanning acclaimed franchises, and also a few surprise hits along the way. Here they are, in order of release:

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Helldivers

Spread “managed democracy” across the galaxy in this squad based cooperative twin-stick shooter that teaches you which of your friends should never touch real firearms. Arrowhead studios released this gem early on in the year and by December its success and popularity was such that it saw a disc release and a port to Steam. Cross-play and cross-buy between the various Playstation platforms makes it even easier to put the “friend” in “friendly fire.”

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Evolve

Bringing an interesting, original dynamic to a cluttered FPS gamespace, Evolve pits 4 players against 1; a motley crew of veteran human hunters against a terrifyingly powerful monster. As an online multiplayer-only experience, Evolve is targeted towards seasoned gamers looking for something engaging and competive, but fresh and unique as well. The matches of Evolve are both tense and intense, with both sides of the conflict seeking to maximize their abilities and opportunities to overwhelm the enemy.

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Ori And The Blind Forest

I’ve gushed about this game in its own dedicated article but it bears repeating: Ori is one of the most gorgeous games of 2015, maybe even of all time. Its soul and charm are equally important to the essence of the experience as its tight and straightforward gameplay, but beware its unexpectedly challenging difficulty curve.

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Mortal Kombat X

Mortal Kombat has made one of the greatest franchise comebacks in recent memory, and its tenth major installation is the shining crown jewel. The cast is fleshed out with enduring fan-favorites alongside new and interesting kombatants as well as unexpected-yet-perfect guest characters such as Jason Vorhees and the goddamn Predator. As the best-looking and probably the best-playing entry in the series, there’s never been a better time to get your hands dirty and plunge back into the MK franchise’s trachea-ripping bloody good time.

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Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher series has a long-standing reputation for being among the cut of the crop of open-world fantasy adventure games, and its third installment embodies the reasons for that reputation. A gritty, dark, sprawling frontier with expansive content and quest branches woven through a fully-realized breathing world full of intrigue, conflict, and terrors of the night. Top-notch production quality can be seen in every aspect of the game from its rich visuals to its compelling story, complex characters, and excellent dialogue.

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Splatoon

Nintendo’s wildly inventive take on the FPS genre made quite a splash with its debut. In Splatoon players are equipped with ink-shooting paint guns in intense 4v4 team battles where the point of the game is to spread your team’s color around the arena more than the opposition, de-emphasizing gunning down enemies and encouraging a focus on area control and interesting teamwork tactics. While it was hampered in its early days by a lack of standard online shooter features such as a party system, its post-launch support has been an impressive offering with new modes, maps, UX improvements, and weapons rolling in regularly in free updates.

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Batman: Arkham Knight

Rocksteady Studios makes a triumphant return to finish out the last game in the Arkham series. Arguably the best superhero game ever made, Arkham Knight allows you to assume the mantle of the bat to a more complete degree than ever before. Every aspect of the game is crafted expertly to make you growl to yourself “I’m Batman” and actually believe it.

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

The saga of Snake concludes in the final chapter of Metal Gear, set in a timeline in the continuity that bridges the gap between the entire franchise as the legendary Big Boss puts his skills to the test one more time to muster a force to combat a mysterious yet familiar enemy. The open world elements are executed in a compelling way and the core gameplay is deep and varied while still being accessible, favoring caution, cunning, and creativity but still leaving room for a shock-and-awe approach. Those unfamiliar with the legacy of the Metal Gear games may struggle to grasp certain narrative elements, but this is undoubtedly the best-playing Metal Gear to date, and rightfully so. So long Boss, and thanks for everything.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops III

The Call of Duty series has fallen into a bad rap in the recent past of becoming a yearly-released paint-by-numbers humdrum, derivative of trending industry tropes and even derivative of itself. Black Ops III brings the pedigree back onto the level of excellence that reminds us of why this series became the king of shooters in the first place, perhaps not so much in originality but certainly in execution. The online multiplayer is the most engaging and fun in the series since Modern Warfare 1 and 2, and the sheer amount of other content included in this game is phenomenal, such as co-op or single player campaign, split-screen online play, zombie mode, and a co-op or single player zombie campaign.

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Fallout 4

Among the most hotly anticipated titles of the year, Fallout 4 affirms beyond a doubt that Bethesda Studios are masters of the craft that they have become known for. An immense post-apocalyptic Boston that has a point of interest and intrigue strewn over nearly every square acre awaits wastelanders that venture out into the dangerous and broken Commonwealth. Offering potentially hundreds of hours of play, the sheer volume of things to do in the game is astounding, presenting choices and consequences to the player at a steady but digestible rate. While the latest entry strays very little from the formula of previous Fallout games, it expands upon and polishes the aspects of the game that made it a household name among gamers in the first place.





Cards Against Humanity: Food Pack Full Spoiler

27 11 2015

Of the three mini-expansions this month, the second is dedicated to food, of all things. Predictably its focus is not drilled down exclusively to edibles, but also to pop culture references that pertain to cooking shows, fad diets, and so on.

Of note is that this particular expansion arrives inside a literal box of food with a small packet of candy (?) inside along with the card pack. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the, er, LOVE that went into this thing:

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The third expansion’s contents will be forthcoming; it will release sometime around late December. In the meantime, enjoy reading about these delicacies while you sob into your Hungry Man Frozen Dinner.

GO TO PAGE 2 FOR THE FULL SPOILER. WARNING: NSFW (duh)





Cards Against Humanity: Fantasy Pack Full Spoiler

25 11 2015

Cards Against Humanity yearly mini-expansions are becoming a universal constant, right up there with death and taxes, but more fun. This time a trifecta of three expansion packs was made available simultaneously, the first of which is the Fantasy Pack. There is a good representation of source material from classic to modern, and while there are a lot of cards that are nothing more than regurgitations of tired cherished fantasy tropes, there are also some real winners that would even get a snort out of Elrond.

GO TO PAGE 2 FOR THE FULL SPOILER. WARNING: NSFW (duh)





Overwatch Beta Impressions

23 11 2015

Over the years, Blizzard has made unexpected but successful forays into various genres outside of their historic areas of expertise starting off with the MMO space with World of Warcraft, then the digital TCG space with Hearthstone. The success of both products speak for themselves cementing the assertion that Blizzard can do a lot more than isometric strategy/adventure games and even do it better than anyone else. Despite their previous successes into new genres their venture into the team FPS game space is still a fairly bold move considering the highly competitive market for such games, dominated by giants like Halo and Call of Duty.

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The immediate comparison one would draw upon seeing Overwatch is to other role-based shooters, primarily Team Fortress 2. 6-person teams go head to head in objective-based maps with each player picking a character that fulfills a role such as a sniper or support class to function and fight effectively as a unit. While there is no mistaking that Overwatch is inspired by such games, it has a lot of fresh approaches and concepts cherry-picked from other genres that make it a refreshingly unique but intuitive experience.

The biggest point of separation from conventional class-based team shooters is that you choose a character rather than a role. While the characters are categorized into different broad categories such as offense, defense, tank, and support, individually they fill niches that can’t be defined so cleanly and offer drastically different approaches and play styles towards being an effective combatant for their team. For example within the “offense” category of characters there is Pharah who is a straightforward character that uses flight in combination with her rocket launcher to pound the enemy in direct confrontations, and then there is Reaper who prefers to avoid head-on fights and uses teleportation and an invulnerable “wraith form” to infiltrate into the midst of enemy teams and ambush high-value targets. The characters have a handful of abilities which all complement each other nicely towards enacting their game plan and can also be used in creative unorthodox ways allowing them flexibility to apply themselves outside of what would appear to be their primary role. Even more intriguing is that the characters’ different abilities can synergize in interesting ways with their comrades that makes you consider the roster of your team and come up with powerful combinations. The slow and powerful Reinhardt becomes suddenly more threatening when paired with Lucio’s speed boost, and Bastion’s turret mode becomes a tremendous threat when paired with Mercy’s damage boosting abilities. As an additional aside, the cast of characters are instantly more interesting than their skill sets; they are a motley crew of actual characters with inspired designs, personalities, and histories, ranging from the intelligent gorilla scientist to the cybernetic ascetic monk. There’s not a single dud amongst the current cast of 21 playable characters with each feeling effective, special, and cool.

Each character also has an ultimate ability that slowly charges over the course of the match. These powerful abilities, such as resurrecting dead teammates or transforming into a literal battle tank, have the potential to shift the momentum of a match and are another point of divergence from traditional team-based shooters. Knowing when and where to utilize your ultimate ability in coordination with the actions of your team give Overwatch a lot of tactical depth, more akin to a MOBA style game such as Heroes Of The Storm.

A final point towards the roster of characters adding a huge element of strategy to the game is that you can switch your character between lives during a match. This introduces an important metagame aspect in which you are able to counter the enemy team’s composition and tactics (sometimes preemptively) by altering your own team’s lineup on the fly. Learning and anticipating the counters to a particular situation will undoubtedly become a huge facet of competitive play as knowledge of the game evolves and expands.

Differences aside, the game is grounded in solid FPS conventions that make it familiar and intuitive as well. The control scheme is simplified and streamlined compared to other modern FPS games which frees up a lot of your thinking to concentrate on your handful of abilities and how best to apply them to the given situation. The maps and arenas are expertly crafted around singular objectives, which funnels the action to particular points and leaves no question as to what you should be trying to do at a given moment while also encouraging team fights which is at the core of the design of the game. One of the subtle things about the game that I recognize and appreciate is its “readability” or transparency. There are a lot of details and clues that give you a greater understanding and awareness of what is happening amidst the chaos of a confrontation including the visual language of the game in terms of characters and their abilities and also the various audio cues such as the sharp gasp that your character emits when they are badly wounded or the distinctive battle cry that they call out when they unleash an ultimate ability. The end result is that everything seems to make sense when things go very right or very wrong rather than you sitting there confused as to what just happened and as a result a player is able to learn the game organically simply from playing matches and encountering new situations.

With a fresh and appealing new IP, Blizzard is poised for another knockout hit. Blizzard has never failed to prove that they can do anything that they want and make it work, and Overwatch is no exception. If you weren’t fortunate enough to make it into the beta period, definitely keep an eye out for this title’s official launch in 2016.





Training Journal of a Ganondorf Amiibo

22 09 2015

The Nintendo Amiibo figurines have special functionality within Smash Bros. which is that you can supposedly level up and “train” a CPU fighter that supposedly learns and adapts based on the opponents it fights. It is unclear whether Amiibos learn to utilize techniques used against them, learn to counter techniques used against them, have a built-in progression of techniques that they decide to use, or a combination of some/all of these factors. The hypothetical appeal is that each Amiibo can learn based on the opponents it fights and thus will have certain behaviors and tendencies such that 2 Amiibo figurines of the same character could fight differently based on what they have learned and assimilated.

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My Playstyle:
Ganondorf’s appeal for me is his terrifying power and some of his primary strengths are hard-hitting attacks and very high zero-to-death potential (being able to kill the opponent quickly by landing key attacks even at low percentages). When I play as Ganondorf I am fairly aggressive, pressuring the opponent by trying to keep close to them, bullying them with low-recovery aerial attacks and above-average-range pokes, “scaring” the opponent to discourage them from using risky moves by punishing baited responses and anticipating manuevers, and being able to threaten a kill at virtually any percentage. Following the opponent off the stage when they are knocked off to fish for an instant-kill “disrespect” situation, typically with dair, is also a key component of my playstyle, both for its tremendous payoff potential and psychological damage to the opponent.

Objective:
To train the Ganondorf Amiibo to be a brutal, effective fighter and to determine whether it will emulate elements of my style of play. To try and imprint certain “disrespect” techniques and playstyles on the Amiibo through cruelty and repetition.

Methodology:
Back-to-back 1v1 3-stock matches on battlefield, mirror matching as Ganondorf, playing as ruthlessly as possible. Played for 2.5 hours consecutively, leveling the Amiibo from 1 to 50 in one sitting and continuing to fight against it after level 50. Post level 50, played against Amiibo with different characters to give it exposure to different matchups.

Level 1-4
Pretty stupid. Does not defend or attack effectively.

Level 5-7
Noticing Amiibo is utilizing neutral A jab, ftilt, and dtilt often on offense and defense, like I do.

Level 12
Amiibo taunts when I accidentally die and it is idle on stage, which is a behavior I didn’t teach it (what an asshole).

Level 9-14
Noticing Amiibo is utilizing short hop nair, fair, and uair to approach and as a zoning tool, like I do.

Level 17
Noticing Amiibo is starting to air dodge to avoid getting spiked when it is off stage.

Level 22
Noticing Amiibo is incorporating bair and utilizing shorthop aerials effectively and often.

Level 24
Amiibo is using drop-off ledge uair, as well as edge guarding with dtilt and ftilt which are behaviors I haven’t utilized against it.

Level 30
Amiibo is starting to use down dodges to avoid predictable attack sequences up close and attempting to punish with grab or ftilt.

Level 34
Exchanging lengthy down-dodge/attack sequences on stage against Amiibo. Noticing occasionally trading hits with Amiibo due to doing the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Level 36
Amiibo scored a legitimate kill on me utilizing drop-off ledge uair.

Level 38
Amiibo’s attacks are starting to do noticeably more damage than normal. Fair did approximately 27% damage.

Level 42
Amiibo won a match against me with one stock intact. Noticing Amiibo is punishing me for missing a tech after landing forward B with dtilt, which is a behavior I didn’t show it.

Level 44
When Amiibo successfully kills me, it no longer taunts, and instead turns around and dashes towards the middle of the stage to wait for me to respawn, a behavior that very closely imitates my tendency.

Level 45
Noticed Amiibo is using Usmash frequently outside of its effective range to fish for rolls or approaches, like I do.

Level 46
Amiibo is doing insane damage with its attacks. Sweet spot fair did over 40% damage.

Level 47
Got 3-stocked by my own Amiibo.

Level 48
Amiibo killed me with dair spike when I was recovering for the first time, which was a behavior I was deliberately trying to teach it.

Level 50
Matches against Amiibo are difficult, I rarely win with more than one stock intact. Although the Amiibo plays the neutral game well with a similar playstyle to what I utilize, it still very rarely attempts to go off-stage to gimp or spike, which is a behavior I am trying to teach it by using on it constantly. Amiibo still frequently falls for easy spike setups.

Level 50+
I can not beat Amiibo with characters other than my main (Ganondorf) even on “first contact.” Amiibo is defeating me when I am using characters it’s never “seen” before, as well as giving me trouble even when using Ganondorf.

Results:
With the caveat that the Amiibo can supposedly learn and adapt after level 50 and 2.5 hours worth of fighting experience is a relatively small sample, it seemed like the Ganondorf Amiibo did in fact learn certain behaviors that it was shown. After attaining level 50, the Amiibo utilized attack sequences, tactics, and techniques that are very similar to mine while on stage in the “neutral” game. However the Amiibo still very rarely follows me off stage for a spike/gimp attempt which is the primary behavior I was attempting to teach to it.

Conclusion:
I am impressed with what the Amiibo seems to have learned over the course of its evolution, but it is unknown whether it actually assimilated these aspects of my playstyle from repeated exposure or if those techniques are simply inherent to the way Ganondorf is played effectively, built into its “DNA” out of the box. The way my Amiibo moves and what moves it prefers on stage is positive evidence for its learning abilities, but its shyness in trying to intercept opponents’ recoveries is a point against.

As an aside, I am disappointed that Amiibos apparently get attack power increases at high levels even without “feeding” them equipment to modify their stats on purpose. I would prefer that the Amiibos utilized the same inherent properties of the normal character as-is and had purely skill-based progression rather than the artificial increase in effectiveness via an arbitrary power increase.

I am left intrigued as to the full capabilities and potential of the Amiibo and will continue to research…





Rising Thunder Technical Alpha Impressions pt. 1

6 08 2015

Rising Thunder is an in-development online fighting game by Radiant Entertainment headed by long time community leader Seth Killian. In Rising Thunder players choose from a cast of giant battle robots to slug it out in what appears to be a fairly conventional fighting game, but where it seeks to set itself apart from the rest is in the simplification of its control scheme where any attack including special moves and super moves can be performed with the press of a single button. While most fighting games are known for their complicated inputs and intricate motions to input moves, Rising Thunder’s approach is to make the controls of the game minimalist and streamlined, stripping out most of the joystick acrobatics necessary to perform basic techniques in a character’s repetoire. The intent is not only to make the game more accessible to a wider range of players of varying skill levels, but also to lower the execution barrier and shift the focus more onto the essence of the play of the game and away from struggling with the controls. Couple this refreshing take on the genre with Radiant’s proprietary GGPO netcode, and you have a potential hit in the making and a reforging of the concept of what makes a fighting game a fighting game.

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I can say without hesitation that Rising Thunder has the makings of an outstanding entry in the genre. The lack of having to do complex motions for moves did not detract from the depth, and I found myself engaging more with the fundamentals of the game–the spacing, footsies, and mindgames–as a result of not having to keep a mental backlog of all of the inputs for the various techniques. I played over 5 consecutive hours in my first sit-down session playing it, spurred onwards by that “one more match” feeling so there’s definitely something compelling here. The game feels great in terms of its responsiveness and pacing of the matches, and the GGPO works about as seamlessly as I could hope for for an online fighting game; very scarcely was I aware of any slowdown or lag in the ranked matches I played, and felt I was engaging the opponent directly without the distractions of latency issues. The game is also quite visually appealing and crisp; the characters are simple but appealing and the effects are stylized and read well. Each of the different robot characters are unique in their playstyle and have a cool sense of personality and nationalism to them; most of their voiceover is even in their native language. There’s only one stage to speak of and 6 characters selectable, but I’m already excited to see what new content will arrive with the release of the full game.


 

The following is a brief breakdown of each of the six characters included in the alpha:

dauntlessDauntless

The “poster bot” for the game favors hard-hitting combo sequences and fishing for opportunities to deal out beefy damage with her fists of steel. To me Dauntless feels similar to Street Fighter’s Dudley. I logged the most time with Dauntless and as a representative of what a core fighter of the game should be, she feels solid and rewarding.

Quick Tips:

-Dauntless’s jumping heavy has lengthy range and the angle of the attack makes it great for jump-ins. If you hold down, it becomes a crossup variation of the attack. Use jumping medium for air-to-air situations.
-Use her medium, heavy attack string as the primary means of threatening the opponent and make them not want to stick their neck out during the neutral game. It outranges most light attacks and rewards you with moderate damage and a knockdown on hit.
-Dust Breaker (special B) is her reversal move when the opponent is bullying you at close range on the ground. It doesn’t work as well as an anti-air.
-Learn some combos with Kinetic Advance; this is where the majority of her damage comes from. All 3 special moves are often used in her combos. She can even land a damaging combo off of her throw using Kinetic Advance. The standard juggle combo finisher seems to be close medium, heavy, special Y, special A (hold down to chase the opponent and release to hit).

chelChel

Every 2D fighter needs its “shoto” character and Chel fills that role; her arsenal will seem immediately familiar with its fireball-uppercut-hurricane kick toolset. Chel’s playstyle revolves around forcing the opponent to respond to her fireballs, then preparing a response.

Quick Tips:

-After hitting (special Y), you can follow up with Crush Breeze(special B) for additional damage. After special B, you can do a crouching heavy for more free damage.
-Chel can also use (special A) while airborne to cut off an aerial approach by the opponent. Mix between the ground and the air to make the opponent wary of jumping excessively.
-Chel has access to some fantastic normal moves to keep the opponent at a distance. Standing medium and standing heavy both have great reach and are excellent footsie tools.

talosTalos

Talos is as close to a traditional grappler-character as any of the robots have come, and his strength is devastating. His magnetic attacks that draw the opponent toward him remind me of BlazBlue’s Iron Tager. Having access to both his special and super grab attacks at the press of a single button is a terrifying prospect.

Quick Tips:

-Many of Talos’s attacks have armored properties that blow through the opponent’s attacks. Holding down (special A) and (special B) will give it an armored property, and forward+heavy also has armor and leads to huge damage.
-After landing forward+heavy, use special B for easy additional damage as they rebound towards you.
-Talos’s stature allows his attacks to hit further up than other characters and have anti-air properties. Using standing heavy as a poke will sometimes catch airborne opponents.

vladVlad

This hulking Russian bot looks unwieldy but has surprising aerial mobility that makes him frightening once he mounts an airborne assault. Coupled with a projectile and a reversal uppercut, he has a well-rounded arsenal that can be utilized on offense or defense.

Quick Tips:

-When jumping in to attack the opponent, use the jetpack to stay airborne longer unexpectedly and open the opponent up as they try to shift their guard in anticipation of low attacks when you would have landed normally. He can also cancel his grounded heavy attacks into a sudden short hop by quickly jumping. Keep in mind that you need jetpack meter to use these techniques, which recharges over time.
-Clobbering Rush(special Y) is a great move. Due to its high vertical reach it functions as an anti-air, and is relatively safe on block. It is also utilized in many of his combos. You can even combo into super off of successfully hitting with this move.
-(special B) is a high-priority uppercut that you can use to beat out many of the opponent’s offensive attempts.

crowCrow

The sleek, futuristic profile of Crow’s design belies his repetoire of stylish ninja-like moves that confuse the opponent and keep them guessing as to where the strikes will land. Crow’s primary strength is in his offensive ability and prowess in defeating the opponent’s guard.

Quick Tips:

-Aim (special A) using either forward, neutral, or back such that it will land on the opponent and then use it to cover yourself as you approach for a mixup sequence. It can also be used defensively to discourage the opponent from jumping towards you.
-Crow is lacking in his defensive options, especially on a knockdown. Try to keep the momentum in your favor as you will invariably prefer to be the one pressuring the opponent rather than the other way around. Crow has excellent aerial moves and cross ups, and will typically go for a high/low mixup that knocks down, resetting the situation.
-Crow has some fantastic normal attacks for keeping the opponent on the defensive and shutting down their attempts at an approach. Jumping heavy and standing medium are fantastic at shutting down an opponent’s approach.
-Using Crow’s cloaking field (special Y) near a cornered opponent makes his attack sequences even more difficult to anticipate and react to.

edgeEdge

Rounding out the cast of characters is the gundam-esque Edge, wielding a plasma sword with reach and speed. As the only character currently rated at “hard” difficulty, Edge requires a bit more effort and thought to fully utilize, but is incredible when used to his potential.

Quick Tips:

-Hitting with Gathering Storm(special A) will charge up the power of (special B), up to three times. You can tell how much special B is powered up by looking at the indicator on Edge’s sword.
-special B is fast and functions as a reversal for defeating obvious attack attempts by the opponent. When special B is charged up, pressing the button twice will unleash additional hits. When fully charged, the move will cause the opponent to bounce off the wall back towards you, allowing potential follow up attacks, including his super move.
-Edge has a hard time beating a defensive opponent, but has a few tools for a high/low mixup. Forward+medium and (special Y), medium are fast overheads that will tag an opponent that is crouch-blocking. You can combo into (special A) after hitting with (special Y), medium.


Overall I am enjoying the Rising Thunder Alpha a lot and it shows great promise as a newcomer into the legacy of the fighting game library. However as much as I commend the push to innovate and expand the appeal to a wider audience via the simplification of the controls, I feel that there are several aspects of the game that contend with the desire to make the game approachable for beginners; on the contrary as a someone with a fair deal of fighting game experience I found the game unexpectedly challenging due to the following points:

Eight-button game

There are 3 normal attack buttons, and 3 special attack buttons. Additionally there is a dedicated button for throws, and a dedicated button just for overdrives (super moves). Currently there are no shortcut alternates or button combinations that emulate other functions (such as pressing 2 attack buttons to throw), meaning that you are unavoidably expected to use all 8 buttons. No other conventional fighting game has ever utilized every single one of the available buttons and it is actually daunting to have to do so. As much as Rising Thunder attempts to make the controls manageable, there is a definite disconnect in having to parse which of the 8 buttons your finger needs to hit in a particular situation and I still have numerous mistakes in pressing the wrong thing, especially when I’m not used to having to think about and stretch my pinky over to hit two additional buttons (on an arcade joystick) up from the usual 4 to 6 buttons.

Low jumps, ambiguous crossups

Another thing that I noticed in this game is that jumping has a fairly low arc and therefore a faster path of travel. This means that you have less time to react to an opponent going airborne until the time they are descending on you with an attack, and you must react much more quickly. While this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that many characters have only one input to press to defeat the jump attempt, characters without such tools will find themselves struggling to react to aggressive jump ins. There have been times when I had anticipated an opponent’s jump with a mentally prepared response to it and still got hit due to the small frame of time between the enemy leaving the ground and coming crashing down on you. Further exascerbating this issue is the ambiguity of crossups from the opponent’s jumping attack. Many characters have attacks that can hit in such a way that they can jump to the other side of the opponent’s facing thus forcing them to change their blocking direction, but it is especially hard to visually confirm in this game compounded by the fact that it happens so quickly.

Tight timing and combo utilization

Even though the vast majority of moves are performed with a single button press, stringing these various attacks together in a functional attack sequence or combo requires fairly strict timing and a lengthy sequence of inputs that parallels the demands of most mainstream fighting games. Coupled with the specificity of the commands spread out among 8 buttons, the ease of inputting the individual commands is offset by having those commands more compartmentalized and distributed among more buttons. Additionally, there are a few characters that require timing with holding and releasing a button to utilize in their combos properly which is another layer of execution complexity.
As an example, in Street Fighter IV and other iterations, Ryu has a simple damaging combo into super:
jumping MK, (land), crouching MK, Hadouken, Shinkuu Hadouken.
Ignoring joystick inputs, this combo can be performed with only 2 buttons: MK and any one punch button. An equivalent combo for Dauntless would be:
jumping H, (land), M, H, special Y, special A (delay), Overdrive.
This combo utilizes no less than 5 separate buttons, including a button hold-and-release, for comparable damage.

Meter management

Meter management is the presence of mind to be aware of your expendable resources in a match and make informed decisions with that information, such as when to use a super move or save it for a later round, or when you should or shouldn’t break out of an opponent’s combo. Rising Thunder features 5 different gauges to watch given that each of your 3 special moves function on a cooldown timer, with characters like Vlad and Edge having subsystems that are essentially more meters. Being cognizant of all of these different resources in the often split-second moment-to-moment decisions in a given match takes a lot of attention that beginner to intermediate players may find overwhelming, or have no concept of.


Despite the lower execution barrier, given the above factors, there are many barriers that seem to still exist or even have been created that will still separate the players that will perform well or poorly by the same margin. I’ve also voiced concern previously that making execution easier in general may raise the bar instead of lowering it, because it will lift certain aspects of the game which were previously considered “advanced” or “high-level” into the “vital to be competent” territory, which may leave more people out in the cold than bring into the fold.

Concerns aside from the intent of the game versus the hypothetical effect, Rising Thunder looks to be an amazing project even in these early stages and I am invested in its success and think myself a dedicated follower. I look forward to seeing what new things the game will bring to the table, and what its presence ultimately brings into effect in the fighting game scene.





Cards Against Humanity: Design Pack Full Spoiler

2 08 2015

During the fasting periods between the mainline expansions, the Cards Against Humanity team has recently been generously producing little snack-packs to satiate consumer hunger, such as the 90’s Pack and Nostalgia Pack that whet the appetite. While most of the content from those mini-expansions caters to specific tastes, they haven’t generally strayed far from the format and formula of the core game. Not so with the arrival of the recent Design Pack, in which the “Now For Something A Little Different” switch has been flipped.

The Design Pack at first glance appears to contain 29 cards with the familiar white card backs, but upon the turnaround you’ll find that each is adorned with full-bleed, full-color artwork akin to something like the cards from Dixit, albeit with a predictably obscene slant. Each card is unique, and appears to be something of a tribute to George Carlin’s renowned “seven words you can never say on television” bit. As expected the imagery is mostly as “colorful” as the game’s language.

As amusing and unexpected as the content of this mini-expansion is, I have a hard time seeing how it would integrate if one were to mix it with the base game in the way that it is typically intended to be played. I can’t envision these image cards as cogent responses to many of the black card’s prompts. Perhaps it is better to think of this pack as a piece of quaint bonus content, akin to something you would see from one of their holiday promotions. But another exciting possibility is that it is an experiment with the production of full-colored cards for a future project, as the visual quality of these cards is rather impressive.

Speculation aside, if you are curious as to the particulars of the content, hit the link to the next page to see them all laid plain. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this at this point but you probably shouldn’t peek at these if your boss or grandma is watching (unless they’re into it).

GO TO PAGE 2 FOR THE FULL SPOILER. WARNING: NSFW (duh)





Street Fighter V Beta Impressions Pt. 1

27 07 2015

It’s been everything but smooth sailing for the turbulent opening days of the Street Fighter V Beta, but I was able to log enough time to make a few observations and make a few impressions as I familiarize myself with the game. Keep in mind that as this is an ongoing beta, anything I mention could change, even between beta events.

I’ll start with a few general/system notes and then move on to the characters I studied.

Higher damage/Lower health

One very noticeable difference is the much lower health compared to previous Street Fighter installments that makes the field of play much more lethal. It’s not unusual for meterless bread-and-butter combos to take off 25% health or more, and landing a combo with full super meter can easily lop off 50% or more of the victim’s life bar. Risky plays have a much higher payoff but are equally more punishing for a failed attempt. This obviously makes the rounds go by more quickly but also makes each moment-to-moment decision during play more meaningful; each gamble and opening becomes a much bigger investment for the combatants and I found myself more intensely focused as a result to find those opportunities. Another factor of this change means that there is greater comeback potential, and the matches are more tense and exciting as a result.

Safe, defensive play is more difficult

One of the resounding criticisms of Street Fighter IV was there were numerous ways to neutralize risk and get out of dangerous situations which became a cornerstone of high level play. In Street Fighter V many of these factors have been removed. For one, there is no mechanic that allows fighters to cancel their moves to remove the commitment to those attacks, for example using Focus Attack Dash-Cancel to cancel a shoryuken in SFIV, which means that each and every time you use such a move you commit to the potential consequence of the move missing its mark. Backdashing has no invulnerability (although you still count as being airborne and therefore cannot be thrown) so it is no longer a constant get-out-of-jail-free card that can be used to escape situations over and over. “Option select” defensive techniques such as crouch-throw-teching has similarly been removed purposely to further trim out go-to defensive techniques that cover a wide variety of things the opponent might try when they have you cornered. Finally, even simply blocking has the disadvantage of taking chip damage from normal attacks, although the damage taken in this way is recoverable over time as long as your opponent doesn’t land a successful hit.

Meter management is more important

The super meter is now only divided into 3 subdivisions down from 4 in the previous iteration. As a result you have less resources to throw out EX moves generously and you have to make important decisions quickly as to whether it’s worth burning some bar to use such a move, especially given the huge damage potential of landing a Critical Art and also being mindful of the opponent’s comeback potential if you don’t tack on that little bit of extra damage to close out a round.

Easier execution raises the bar instead of lowering it

One of the most notable differences is that in general the inputs for performing damaging combos and some special moves have been made more lenient in an effort to make the game more accessible. In SFIV there were important combos that required 1/60th of a second timing in order to perform, while in SFV these “link” combos have been made more lenient on their input timing. While at first glance this would appear to be a move to cater to beginners and make the game more approachable to the novice, it also sets a certain precedent that mastery of these techniques is a basic demand of the competent player. Dropping your combo or flubbing your special move is now a much more fatal mistake, since you have to assume that the opponent is less likely to make the same error when the opportunity arises.

Ryu

-MP one of his best buttons

Ryu players will find themselves using his MP button much more than in any other iteration. The reach of this move is noticably further, and it can link into itself for hit-confirms and is the starter for his target combo MP HP HK, as well as being cancelable making this one of his most useful poking and footsie tools. Similar to previous games if you land an air-to-air MP, you can follow up with an EX special move or even a Critical Art upon landing.

-Denjin mode incredibly threatening

Ryu’s V-trigger makes him tremendously dangerous by giving him access to the Raidou Hadouken. When in Denjin mode, fireballs can be charged up by holding down the button to give them guard-breaking properties at maximum charge, making his fireball gameplay a huge threat. While the opponent is unlikely to let you land a full-charged fireball from the neutral game, the EX fireball charges up significantly faster, try canceling into it when the opponent is scared for a possible setup. Upon a successful guard-break, use forward HP to lunge in and follow up with MP into his target combo or anything else for staggering damage.

-Fireball zoning less effective

Hadoukens are still an integral part of Ryu’s gameplan but you must be much more mindful about tossing them out. The characters have various tools spread amongst them such as Bison and Nash’s V-skills specifically to counter fireballs, and the higher damage of the game also makes a good read by the opponent hurt a lot more if they catch you throwing a hadouken when you shouldn’t have. Furthermore, even the time-old crouching MK, hadouken string is punishable on block at certain ranges by certain characters.

-Hit confirms important to see if opponent is crouching

Many of Ryu’s combos that use the target combo string will whiff on the final HK if the opponent was crouching when they were hit. If you know the opponent is crouching, try throwing in a crouching HP which will force them to stand, then cancel into a special move/critical art.

-Don’t try to abuse parry

Ryu’s V-skill Mind’s Eye closely emulates the Third Strike parry system, but don’t be tempted to overuse it. The main fatal flaw is that there is a whiff animation if the parry doesn’t catch anything, potentially causing you to eat a counter-hit. Also note that you can’t parry while airborne.

-MP shoryuken invincibility

A very key thing to know is that currently the MP version of Ryu’s shoryuken sports the most invulnerable frames. Outside of combos, the MP shoryuken should be your default when fishing for reversals or to stuff an obvious attack attempt.

Birdie

-Not really a grapple character, well rounded toolset

Birdie is currently the only character with a command grab, but landing his command grab is not the centerpiece of his gameplan like it is with more traditional grapplers like Zangief. Instead, Birdie has a well rounded selection of moves to make him threatening in a variety of situations. Most of his reliable damage comes from landing simple heavy-hitting attack strings rather than his special grab.

-MP HCF+MP is your go-to punish

Birdie’s standing MP is an incredible move. It has lengthy reach and is special cancelable. Cancel into the MP Bull Head for easy 20% damage when the opponent does something unsafe.

-Jumping MP crossup, MK air to ground, HP for jump-in

Birdie has several aerial moves that are useful in different situations. MP is the closest thing he has to a body splash type attack which is crossup-capable but the hitbox doesn’t last long. You must hit with the jumping MP close to the ground in order to go into a combo. Jumping MK has a steep angle and good range making it a great air-to-ground attack. If you know the opponent is open, jumping HP is your best bet for a combo starter due to its good damage and big hit-stun.

-Armored moves

Notable in Birdie’s arsenal are some moves that have hit-absorbing properties to discourage incessant attackers. Forward HP seems to have armor when holding down the button. His variations of Bull Head also gain armor when in V-trigger.

-HP and cr. MK for footsie bullying

Birdie has exceptional range on his normal moves and he can stay at a position where he can threaten with his long reach while being out of range of the opponent’s normals. Try using standing HP and both standing and crouching MK to tag the opponent just out of the reach of their normals.

-V-skill necessary to reliably get V-trigger

Birdie has a 3-stock V-gauge meaning it takes longer to fill than other characters. Look for opporunities to use his V-skill to build the gauge in order to unleash his overpowering V-trigger mode.





E3 2015

18 06 2015

This year’s E3 was a great lead-up to some of the most anticipated titles of the year. With heavy-hitters like Halo 5: Guardians, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Call of Duty: Black Ops III just over the horizon, there was even more excitement to be had by the surfacing of some projects thought long-vanquished, most notably The Last Guardian, Shenmue III, and the remake of Final Fantasy VII. Here are my impressions from some of what I was able to see on the show floor.

Star Wars Battlefront (PS4)

I had been skeptical of the Battlefront series as being a simple reskin or rebranding of the perennial Battlefield franchise, but Star Wars Battlefront ended up being my favorite of the show and shattered my preconceptions. I was able to enjoy a play session in both the 20 vs. 20 multiplayer demonstration and also the 2-man cooperative challenge.

The real meat of the experience and the centerpiece of the game is the large-scale multiplayer battles in which one team represents the iconic factions of the Star Wars series; the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. In the demo level featured at EA’s main South Hall booth, an all out Imperial assault on a Rebel base on the icy tundra of Hoth was the scenario on deck in which the Rebels are trying to repel the advance of two massive AT-AT walkers that the Empire has deployed to destroy the power generators that supply the Rebel base. The asymmetric objectives and narrative setup add an element of investment and interesting gameplay differences for both sides right off the bat.

From the onset, the two factions launch towards each other in a massive infantry wave, frantically scanning the front lines for exposed targets, pushing towards boundaries in wide flanking maneuvers, and trying to gain advantageous positions amongst the rocky outcroppings and winding trenches scattered across the map. The gameplay is vastly simplified compared to other modern FPS games to focus on the core shooting and infantry tactics instead of inventory and resource management: Almost every piece of equipment that you utilize such as jetpacks, grenade launchers, and personal shields function on a cooldown timer rather than having a set amount of ammo, meaning that their usage focuses more on escalation and opportunity than trying to throw out as much of your gadgets and special weapons as possible per life. Another streamlined element of gameplay that helps keep the ground map less cluttered and more concisely focused on infantry vs. infantry is that there are no vehicles laying idly about that players have to try to capture and embark; instead acquiring a vehicle is a powerup that can be picked up around the map which players then use to “call in” an aerial fighter from off-screen, transitioning to the already-airborne fighter seamlessly (complete with a classic Star Wars-style screen wipe). Vehicles also dominate the game space to a much lesser degree, where the aerial dogfights feel like a distinctly separate space of the same conflict yet jointly contribute to the objective at hand.

The game looks marvelous and the performance was spotless. Seeing the massive scale of the armored AT-ATs as they lumber across the snow is awesome to behold and plays on the fond nostalgia of the classic franchise. There were many other great magic moments in the play session where myself or my neighboring players would lean over, eyes lit up with shameless giddiness and say such things as “dude I’m in a tie fighter” or “I just got torn up by Luke Skywalker.”

The cooperative offering featured a local split-screen challenge set in a craggy canyon of the arid Tatooine wilds. As a pair of stranded Rebel operatives, you and your partner must endure waves of incoming stormtroopers as you await reinforcement. You have to use the landscape to your advantage as the Imperium forces close in, and pick your shots especially when faced with a stalking AT-ST walker. Optional objectives provide bonus powerups such as a smart missile if you are willing to stick your neck out to recover them. The framerate/latency was noticeably lower than when playing at the multiplayer stations, likely due to the strain of rendering split-screen but still playable and gorgeous looking.

Street Fighter V (PS4)

A new chapter in the legendary fighting franchise is almost upon us and a playable build was available for the masses to sample on the show floor, both at the Sony and Capcom booth areas. The latest entry in the series feels both familiar and foreign at the same time, particularly in the core game system mechanics: Gone are the focus attacks and ultra moves from the predecessor Street Fighter IV, paving way for the new V-skill and V-gauge system. The familiar super meter remains at the bottom of the screen, but is subdivided into 3 cells as opposed to 4. Additionally there is the new red-tinged V-gauge that sits atop the super meter which is divided into segments as well, however the amount of segments and length of the V-gauge varies from character to character. The V-gauge fills up due to taking damage similar to the revenge meter in SFIV, and gives access to the V-reversal which is essentially an alpha-counter-esque move that you can use while blocking to escape pressure but also enables the character to activate their V-trigger when filled to maximum. Of note is also the presence of a visible stun gauge on screen below the health bars which serves to show the player when a character is about to enter a dizzy state from being hit too much in succession.

The V-trigger’s effect is different for each character and either enhances them in some way for the duration of its activation as the V-gauge slowly depletes or gives access to supplemental moves. For example, when M. Bison activates his V-trigger, it causes his various moves to gain evasive phasing properties but Nash’s V-trigger is actually a single-use move that allows him to
instantly teleport to a position on the screen for a sudden repositioning maneuver.

Additionally, each character has a unique V-skill that is used by pressing both medium attack buttons, and similarly has a different unique effect for each fighter. Ryu’s V-skill is reminiscent of Street Fighter III’s parry that can catch attacks and allow him to respond more quickly than blocking, while Chun Li’s V-skill is a short hop that launches her low off the ground and opens up more variation in her aerial approaches.

There were 6 warriors playable on the show floor, including fan-favorites Ryu, Chun Li, M. Bison, and Cammy. Returning from the Alpha series is the burly grappler Birdie and the enigmatic Nash, a character previously thought to be canonically dead but now returned as a partially-cybernetic vengeful revenant. Most of the classic characters’ gameplay is comfortable and largely unchanged, whereas others have had substantial revisions. M. Bison has lost the ability to use Psycho Crusher as a normal special move, but gains a few new tricks in his arsenal that unleash bursts and geysers of his signature purple energy. Nash now uses fireball-motion inputs to utilize his special moves rather than charge moves similar to Guile as he had in his previous appearances. Changes such as these are an exciting prospect for a long-running series and incites curiosity on what other characters we will see return and what new tricks they will have at their disposal.

Rainbow Six: Siege (Xbox One)

Of the innumerable entries into the staleing FPS genre, once in a while an outlier will appear that may just set the new precedent and turning point for the genre. Rainbow Six: Siege is a game that mixes some of the sensibilities of the older age of FPS combined with new fresh concepts that challenge modern conventions of shooters. The small 5 vs. 5 game along with the lack of instant respawns in a round create an incredibly tense experience where every subtle movement matters and careful play and tactics is favored over reckless charges. The other centerpiece of Rainbow Six: Siege is the destructable aspects of the level where holes and can be breached in most any wall to create sudden openings and routes to surprise and outmaneuver the enemy.

Rock Band 4 (Xbox One)

Having been a dedicated follower of the Rock Band franchise in the previous generation, Rock Band 4 was one of my must-see attractions for the show but it was ultimately the least exciting for me. I could scarcely tell that I wasn’t playing Rock Band 3 aside from the new track list, with the only apparent new gameplay offering being the ability for the guitar player to unleash freestyle solo riffs similar to the drum track. I was informed that equipment from the previous console generation should be compatible with the new incarnation, which is definitely a big plus, but it remains to be seen what else will incentivize players from coming back for another tour of the series.

Guitar Hero Live (Xbox One)

One of the originators of the popularity of the instrument-game genre returns featuring a new controller that has six fret buttons which are positioned in two rows of 3 rather than straight down the neck. Apart from the new hardware, Guitar Hero Live also features live action video recordings from the perspective of a guitarist at a real concert show which is a cool addition.

Xbox Elite Controller

While I didn’t actually play anything on the floor with the new hardware, I was able to handle the new peripheral and discuss some of its talking points with an exhibitor. The Xbox Elite Controller is a newly announced official controller for the Xbox One which for all intents and purposes functions like any other controller but has some really nice extras for a player who wants to customize their tool of the trade for enhanced performance and comfort. The additional features beyond the standard controller include magnetically swappable alternate dpad and analog sticks to change the height, bulk, and feel of the directional inputs, as well as toggles at the rear of the device that allow you to adjust the distance that the trigger buttons can be depressed. The most notable addition is the removable paddles that can be inserted into the rear of the controller that are customizable and can be programmed to emulate the function of the other buttons, so for example you could put your jump button on one of the paddles so that you would be able to access that button without taking your thumb off of the right analog stick which is typically used for aiming weapons. Despite its various useful additions, bells, and whistles, the $150 price point puts it into the territory of “would be nice to have” rather than “obvious purchase.”

Cuphead (PS4)

A visually striking game that resembles something straight out of the era of technicolor cartoons, Cuphead is an indie-produced side scrolling shoot-em-up with an unusual, head-turning aesthetic. Cuphead is playable solo or via local coop and will be making its way onto console and PC digital distribution channels soon.

Kill Strain (PS4)

A top-down isometric view team shooter with an interesting twist: There are actually 3 teams, two teams of human operatives and one team of “mutants” that begins with only two players. Each team has its own objective to win a match but the mutant team is able to infect other players and convert them to their team permanently. This interesting dynamic is a unique take on typical symmetric team shooters in that alignments can swap as the match progresses and there is a 3rd party threat at all times for each team.

Gang Beast (PS4)

A quaint but thoroughly entertaining 4-player brawler which is something like a bizarre version of Backyard Wrestling. The premise and controls are fairly simple; grapple and struggle with your opponents to try and toss them into hazards like giant fans and rock grinders on a variety of stages ranging from construction sites to industrial mills. Gang Beast has been available on Steam for a while now but is making its way to digital distribution on consoles.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)

One of the headliners of the entire show, Uncharted 4 was not floor playable but there was a live demo that featured extended gameplay beyond what was shown during the Playstation press conference (which is worth a watch if you’ve not yet seen it). Uncharted 4 looks like a technical marvel with its graphic fidelity and smooth framerate, but its real appeal lies in the high-adrenaline moment-to-moment intensity within the gameplay sequences that makes it exhilarating just to watch, let alone play. If Uncharted 4 can pack that much excitement within a span of 5 minutes, I can barely imagine what the whole game must be like.