Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and the Unbreakable Armbreaker

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Capcom
N.A. Release: November 2011

I should have known better than to go online with Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

You can probably find no greater disparity between casual and advanced players than within the realm of fighting games. Coming across a serious fighting gamer as a novice is like showing up to a chess meet and sending your first pawn out, ready to have fun and learn. Then you're unable to do anything but sit back in shock as your opponent somehow manages to capture all your pieces, kill your king, and ban you from ever coming back in one move.

You will feel violated.
Whereas many other games have some sort of reactionary element to them, providing more of a chance for beginners to get the upper hand now and then, fighting games operate on a strict, formulaic system that players can analyze and take advantage of, finding inescapable combos that will destroy your character while you might as well drop the controller and go to the bathroom.

And hey, that's all fine if you're only playing others like yourself; those who spend nights studying matches on YouTube, building character tiers and practicing the timing of your button presses. But a big problem--and one that alienates fighting games more than many other genres--is that many of the pros will use their techniques indiscriminately. Or, worse, they get pleasure from wiping up noobs who just want to try things out.

Our high school had the "games expert," which at that stage of life means being the kid with access to enough parental funds to have an impressive library of games. He became a fighting guru, and on one field trip we had a layover stop at a mall, which meant an arcade. He invited people to challenge him to Mortal Kombat 4. Some of us did, and he beat us all. But was it impressive? Not in the least. He beat a bunch of kids who openly admitted they haven't played the game much by literally repeating the same unblockable arm-breaker move on everyone until they died. Eventually we learned trying to play with him was the opposite of fun.

You can have a longer, flashier-looking combo, but if it's all you use to defeat an opponent, you're not really much better than my high school example. There are people who play to master the game and again, that's cool. But there are also people who like to play because they love the design and characters. It's not hard to identify the players like us. We're the ones who are unashamed to use fighters like Rocket Raccoon or Felicia.

This is the only image of Felicia I found on the internet that I felt morally confident in posting.
So pros, how about it? The next time you see you're facing someone online with a 0-10 record (I know they exist because I am one), how about taking that opportunity to try some new things with the game instead of using your same old memorized combos to pulverize them? Doesn't it get boring doing the same thing over and over? Doesn't it kind of deaden all the creative elements the developers built around the system you love to manipulate? Wouldn't it be nice to let someone else actually feel like they might be able to win for a few moments; let them have some actual fun? It might encourage them to get into the game more and become a real challenge to you, instead of having them rage quit and go back to Super Smash Bros.

I may get labeled a button-mashing whiner for stating all this, but I can handle it. I've taken enough lumps as it is.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sonic Rush and the Inner Monologue

Sonic Rush
Platform: Nintendo DS
Developers: Sonic Team and Dimps
N.A. Release: November 2005

Do you know how certain things tend to tie together in your mind? My birthday is just a couple days away, on Nov. 15. It's a Tuesday this year, making it a prime release date for games like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Halo: Anniversary, but there's only one game I associate with my birthday: Sonic Rush.

Released Nov. 15, 2005, Sonic Rush is not only one of the higher points in the the tumultuous modern generation of Sonic titles, but also marked the debut of my favorite character: Blaze the Cat.

You can tell she's a different Sonic character because she's wearing reasonable pants.
Blaze is a princess from a separate dimension who is charged with protecting her land's Sol Emeralds, mirrors of the series' famous Chaos Emeralds. A stalwart dedication to her duties has resulted in her being quite solitary and socially underdeveloped, although through the course of the game she learns to embrace the values of friendship.

In a cartoonish realm that highlights very bubbly and/or forward personalities, introverts--especially in female characters--seem to rarely find much of a platform or popularity.

Although a new one did show up last year. It's always the purplish ones.
Blaze, however, has managed to establish a healthy and positive following. In a lineup of characters that have very one-track motivations ("I want to beat you, Sonic!" "I want to prove I'm superior, Sonic!" "I want to knock you out with a hammer, tie you to my bed and ravage you until every one of my raging biological desires is satiated, Sonic!") Blaze's separation actually makes her feel relatively deeper.

But if a character is not wont to be chatty, how do you reveal enough of him or her for the audience to care? It's really not that hard if you're not using voice acting: reveal the inner monologue through text!

A hefty amount of Blaze's text in Rush is not her talking to other characters, but herself in her mind. The shortness of her spoken responses come through, but are also matched with lines of inner mulling over her choices and behavior that make you empathize with and even feel a little sorry for her awkwardness. It's not the deepest soliloquy you can find out there, but as Sonic's plots are never that deep to begin with, it still proves effective and outright fascinating.

It's likely my journalistic background talking, but I wish the inner monologue was a more regularly applied technique. I heard so many manufactured soundbytes in my time that I started wondering just what a politician or press rep was really thinking while they were talking to me. And I now realize that my thinking of that back then was yet another truth hidden within my mind as I went through my own reporter motions.

There is an entirely separate universe of thoughts and feelings others will never know, locked away in each and every one of us. Perhaps it's best we can't access them in each other--I doubt society would be a better place if some of those secrets were let out--but in the realm of fiction, it's a reminder that every word we hear can be floating on a hidden ocean of thoughts.