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.

RisingThunderBanner

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.





EVO 2013, Paris Hotel, Las Vegas

26 07 2013

This year was my second outing to Las Vegas for the annual EVO world championships. Although the venue has changed, the energy and excitement has compounded from consecutive years. With over 6,000 attendees, this year boasted a record-breaking attendance. Seeing and feeling the electric energy of the packed grand ballroom, especially on finals day, is proof of the power of a long-standing international community that has made the pilgrimage and rallied to witness the clash of competitors that represent the pinnacle of skill and expertise over the course of 3 days of insanity. Additionally, this same community pooled their resources and goodwill to raise over $225,000 towards breast cancer research as a fundraiser towards the inclusion of community-requested games in the main tournament schedule, such as Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Tournament schedule aside, there were other attractions to be seen around the viewing halls and show floor. Double Helix’s Killer Instinct reboot had playable kiosks as well as the debut of a returning series stable character Glacius in his new incarnation. Glacius’ look has taken an extraterrestrial bent and his focus is on distancing himself from the opponent and trapping them inside his effective zone with long-ranged normals and keep out tools. Even the indie-produced Dive Kick had a show presence and I was able to get some hands on time with the game, which manages to be simplistic and elegant despite being rooted in satire. A release of August 20th was announced for Dive Kick with a set price of $10. Funds have already been set aside on my part.

EVO is also a time when fighting game developers will often reveal new announcements, perhaps even more so than E3 considering that they have in that moment the interest and attention of their entire dedicated demographic. Among the most notable and groundbreaking announcements was the inclusion of Black Canary and Martian Manhunter as additional DLC characters for Injustice, but also yet another iteration of Street Fighter IV: “Ultra Street Fighter IV.” This upcoming version will feature even more refinement and rebalancing based on community feedback as well as the inclusion of a few new characters, namely the 4 warriors from Street Fighter X Tekken (Hugo, Elena, Rolento, Poison) as well as a yet-unrevealed 5th warrior who is said to have never appeared in a main-line Street Fighter game before. The game will be available both as a full retail disc and as a reduced price digital upgrade.

If ever there was a day to make an appearance at EVO, it would have to be the tournament finals on Sunday. Within these 24 hours the absolute best on earth compete in an all-out showdown to determine the world champions in their respective arenas. The immense tension, excitement, and HYPE within that crowded main hall has to be experienced firsthand.

The first game of the finals was KOF XIII, and while I know precious little about the game watching battles at the absolute highest level of play was enthralling. In the end Reynald took 1st place as the 1st ever American player to be the grand champion of the game.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was undoubtedly a huge draw for the crowd and likely contributed to the record-breaking attendance. Some of the competitors came from as far across the globe as Sweden for the sole purpose of going head-to-head with the very best in their game of expertise. While the expected top-class picks Falco, Fox, Marth, and Sheik were certainly present, there were some unexpected entrants that captured the attention of the crowd, namely an Ice Climbers player “Wobbles” who took 2nd place.

The Injustice finals were interesting to watch but took an unexpected turn; Superman has become so universally reviled as an overpowered character in this game that the crowd unanimously booed whenever he won a match (even in the very last match of the grand finals). Something is probably wrong when the community reacts with such “anti-hype” towards witnessing the highest levels of play in a given game.

The end of the evening was reserved for the most hotly anticipated games, the first of which was Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. UMvC3 is widely regarded as being the most frenetic and insane game to watch during finals where anything can happen. Although he didn’t take 1st, the hero of the top 8 was undoubtedly Justin Wong, an long standing veteran and celebrity in the fighting game community who has been making a marked comeback of late, fighting his way through the bracket and knocking out several dangerous and reviled players through savvy, intelligent, unorthodox play. Justin managed to take 2nd but he really won the heart of the crowd. Another crowd-pleaser was the player Angelic whose inclusion of Shuma-Gorath was highly unusual and instantly won the approval of the crowd for his amazing utilization of an obscure character.

Finally to conclude the procession was the finals for Super Street Fighter IV: AE 2012. Some of the most respected players had ended up in the top 8 and every single match was a guaranteed clash of titans. There was not a single match that was uneventful but for me the highlight was Infiltration’s Hakan counterpick against PR Balrog. Infiltration’s usage and win using this extremely underplayed character is a testament to his skill and adaptability as a player, exploiting PR Balrog’s unfamiliarity with the match-up and pulling out a seemingly unlikely win. Other memorable moments include the birth of a meme within the packed main hall of the finals during Infiltration and Tokido’s match. Both players are known for playing Akuma, and the repeated launching of aerial fireballs caused the crowd to imitate the grunting noise of Akuma’s signature attack amidst uproarious laughter. It was a special moment that broke the tension of this intense match because it really solidified the idea of an entire community that had a shared sense of the humor of the situation. But perhaps the most significant takeaway from the finals was the winner overall; the player Xian with his dominant performance using the somewhat-obscure character Gen and his decisive victories are proof that expectations can be shattered and anything is possible in EVO finals.

Overall this EVO has been one of the most successful yet, and I hope to return next year, as will the many thousands of players that congregate yearly for the love of the game and the thrill of the battles that unfold within.





Review: Street Fighter x Tekken

9 03 2012

As previously mentioned, this looks to be a very populous year in terms of fighting games, but the premier offering thus far has to be Capcom’s new crossover title, Street Fighter x Tekken which pits two of the world’s most enduring fighting franchises against each other in a once-in-a-lifetime dream battle.

SFxT represents the first of a pair of games which is the result of a collaborative effort between the two companies, and this game represents Capcom’s interpretation, and thus much more closely resembles traditional Street Fighter gameplay than Tekken’s 3D environment. That said, the Tekken characters have all made an impressively faithful transition to the 6-button 2D style and an entire 50% of the game’s cast of about 38 characters are all “new” to the 2D battlefield. On the whole they have done a great job porting the Tekken cast to the Street Fighter system while still retaining many of their signature moves and overall style of each of the characters, and several modifications to the Tekken warriors’ arsenal have been granted to allow them to integrate well and be competent and powerful in the new environment. The cast of characters on both sides are well represented, but mostly defaults to the flagship cast over truly unusual inclusions, but I suppose that should be expected for the first meeting of these two historical franchises.

I was instantly attracted to the Tekken characters because they represented effectively new blood to the Street Fighter format and had incredible depth to explore. However, beginning players may be frustrated using the Tekken characters at first because most players lack knowledge of those characters’ “game plan” to be effective in the 2D arena. Losing repeatedly to Hadoken, Shoryuken, and j.FK will be very discouraging but learning the individual tools to counter and dismantle the older-than-time strategies of the Shotokan and other SF veterans is one of the game’s internal Everests; a difficult climb but a satisfying challenge to master.

In terms of general gameplay, I feel that it is best described as a hybrid/middle-ground between SFIV and MvC3. Basics like footsies and positioning are still integral to play, but lengthy and damaging combos increase the lethality of openings and opportunities. This helps to reinforce the marriage of the two different game styles, with the fundamentals of Street Fighter and the “dead in 2 combos” high stakes of Tekken. Seasoned players of Street Fighter will comfortably adjust to the game, yet it is different enough to warrant new approaches and perspectives and also has an incredible depth of new mechanics to explore and master. There are several aspects of play that warrant some of the game’s nuanced aspects, like utilizing switch mechanics effectively, but these too will quickly become second nature to perceptive and dedicated players. I find this middle-ground gameplay refreshing and compelling; it features both strong fundamentals to reward tactical, disciplined play as well as the flashiness to entertain and freedom to experiment.

SFxT’s included modes may be among the most robust offerings yet from Capcom. The ability to play with 4 players simultaneously in tag-team format is a great inclusion and is natural to the game’s basic play rather than a forced addition, and also is a blast. The online modes also seem to be servicable, and even includes features such as saving replays.

Sadly, it appears that the 360 version of the game is notably inferior in several areas, first of which being the exclusion of 5 console specific characters on the PS3, second being the inability to do team-play locally on Xbox Live.

Overall, SFxT is shaping up for me to be one of the most enjoyable releases of the past many years, cherry picking some of the great aspects from recent and historical releases into a new format that scratches the right spot. It is a game that deserved to be decent and it definitely “crossed the line.”

As for the DLC debacle…that is an article for another day.





Review: Soul Calibur V

5 02 2012

2012 is already shaping up to be a booked year for fighting games and the first arrival comes to us as the Soul series’ 2nd offering on current-gen systems. Soul Calibur V brings a number of new things to the battlefield in an effort to reinvent and inject new life into the enduring franchise with revised gameplay systems and core mechanics. A delicate balance must be struck to create something both fresh and formulaic, where there must be both novelty yet a firm sense of familiarity. Does SCV hit the mark or has the soul finally burned out?

In terms of the story and setting Soul Calibur V represents the furthest chronological leap in the series, taking place a full 17 years after Soul Calibur IV. Many of the veteran souls return to the stage of history, and an equivalent amount of mainstays of the franchise have bowed out to younger replacements, bequeathing their fighting styles onto their progeny or understudies. However, there are also several jarring omissions from the expected roster, as many other staples are inexplicably missing: Seung Mina, Talim, Yunseung, and Zasalamel have been unceremoniously axed (insert Astaroth joke) and have no equivalent or replacement. Is it just me, or do I smell DLC shenanigans?

The core gameplay is of course at the heart of this review. The addition of the Soul Gauge (read: super meter) has overlayed a new aspect borrowed from many other legacy fighting games of meter management and devastating comeback moves that must be integrated into the routines and arsenals of those wishing to master the game. The classic “Guard Impact” mechanic has also been completely revised, requiring usage of a portion of the Soul Gauge to utilize rather than being on on-demand technique. Additionally a new “Just Guard” mechanic has been introduced as somewhat of a substitute to the conventional Guard Impact, but it feels more similar to the parrying system of Third Strike; much stricter in terms of timing and requiring speedier execution to capitalize upon.

The new systems introduce significant considerations in the flow and play of the game, however the overall feel of the characters is very much preserved and familiar. Although there are always tweaks to their movesets between games, many players will find that they can return to their mainstay characters within minutes with the majority of their staple moves intact. Some characters have had a bit of balance tweaks and re-focusing; for instance Tira is much faster and more dangerous with her wide-arcing swings, Astaroth is more sluggish and cumbersome but does truly monstrous damage, and Yoshimitsu may be the most dangerous he’s been since SCII. The wholly new characters Z.W.E.I. and Viola are very unorthodox compared the rest of the cast with their mystic-infused fighting styles, but seem like strong competitors with their difficult-to-read movements and helper mechanics to assault the opponent in tandem (I am reminded of Eddie and Bridget from Guilty Gear). Ezio Auditore of Assassin’s Creed is perhaps the most appropriate guest character of the franchise history and he fits in well with the cast. Due to the absence of conventional Guard Impact, characters with built-in GI moves like Cervantes and the sword-n-boarders have more incentive to use those maneuvers in a match. Although concrete tier lists have not yet emerged, from what I’ve seen I expect Leixia, Xiba, Siegfried, Alpha Patroklos and Yoshimitsu to be in the upper echelons.

Online play is somewhat spotty at the moment, but I’ve played several successful matches with serviceable latency. As far as online modes it’s the best the Soul series has done so far but still nothing to write home about.

Other than conventional versus modes, there are a few side modes worth investigating. Create a character mode is back and quite robust in terms of freedom and customization, but lacks any of the unique styles from previous iterations other than Tekken’s Devil Jin, thus any custom creations will simply imitate an existing character. The wealth of options is impressive, and you can create some authentically slick-looking customizations (or hideously inappropriate abominations, if you prefer). The story mode follows the quest of Patroklos and Pyrrha, Sophitia’s heirs, to reunite and vanquish the curse that has plagued their family for generations. While it’s par for the course on fighting game story modes and therefore fairly underwhelming, it introduces some interesting twists and revelations of the SC world and even a few geniunely thoughtful and introspective moments. You’ll have to wade through it anyway in order to obtain the unlockable characters so be glad it isn’t intolerable.

Even after spending a good dozen or so hours with the game, there is always a difficulty in evaluating any fighting game in its infant months. It is hard to say if the systems and balance are solid enough that the game will be worth playing “for serious” over the long run. Past Soul games have always have exploits or anomalies unveiled that have dispelled the game’s tournament potential but Namco has been pretty good about pushing free updates and balance patches; they’ve already released a 1.01 patch to remove a supposed “fuzzy guard” exploit. All doubt cast aside, what I can say conclusively is that right now, at this moment, the game is damn fun and I’m going to be playing it in the forseeable future. For now, that’s all I need it to be.

Uncle Nightmare will be seeing you all online.