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smash bros

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS Review- The Waiting Game

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Super Smash Bros. for 3DS Review- The Waiting Game

Smash Bros for 3DS is an appetizer, and it's a damn good one, but that's all it's ever going to be. It's an amuse-bouche, a way to tide yourself over for the entree. There's about two months until its big brother comes out, and for those two months, if you need your Smash Bros. fix, there's very little to complain about with the 3DS version. But, know that if you're that kind of person, you're almost certainly going to be buying a better version of it when it comes out. 

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Turn on, Tune In, Drop out (of Videogames): The Pandora's Box of Fan Interaction

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Turn on, Tune In, Drop out (of Videogames): The Pandora's Box of Fan Interaction

After a long, drawn-out twitter feud last week, Phil Fish cancelled his upcoming game, Fez 2, quit videogames, and for a few days there, quit the internet.

You might know the story by now. Phil Fish, game designer, creator of the “worst map ever” award winning game, Fez, and subject of the documentary Indie Game the Movie, is prone to emotional outbursts. If you haven’t heard of him from the projects he’s been involved in, you might remember the time he said that all Japanese games suck while on stage at last years Game Developers Conference. Or maybe you know him from his frequent twitter battles with games analyst Kevin Dent. Or maybe that time he publicly stated he couldn’t update his own game after releasing a broken patch due to Microsoft’s draconian patching policies.

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And more recently, Marcus Beer, who rants as the accused Fish and Braid creator Jonathan Blow of using the press as a means to an end. He specifically cited the fact that neither gave comments on Microsoft’s self publishing policy for indie games until after the fact. This led Beer to call the two “self-styled kings of indie games” and accused the pair of only giving quotes to the press when it suited their needs.

Fish took Beer to task on twitter, fans of the two, as well as casual observers and the legion of people don’t necessarily like Beer, but definitely don’t like Fish got involved, and the rest is history.

Basically, there hasn’t been a moment in the last couple of years where Fish wasn’t in the public eye, made even more apparent by his active twitter presence. Going back through his replies and looking at forum posts about him around the internet, it’s pretty clear that a significant number of people took it upon themselves to constantly put Fish down. Heck, according to him, the reason he’s getting out of videogames isn’t because of his most recent argument, but the constant abuse he faces on the internet, day in and day out.

 

The thing is, I find it hard to blame him for this. It’s hard to make things for an audience that seems to only be out for your blood, especially something as personal and draining as a videogame. I think he could have handled it more elegantly and not quit videogames entirely, but at the end of the day it’s hard to argue with the kind of abuse he put up with.

We live in an era of facebook, twitter and e-mail, where the person who created your favourite game, song, movie or book is just a few keystrokes away. But for most people, we live in an era where the person who made something you don’t like is so much closer. It’s hard to be genuine and express your gratitude for something you like. It’s easier to find someone you don’t and by a jerk to them. Abuse is easy to give, but it’s hard to filter through for the person getting it.

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Sure, Fish has a reputation for making emotionally charged, off the cuff remarks, and he probably knows that. Yes, he could have put two and two together and realized that being constantly active on twitter and engaging with his trolls would eventually lead to a situation like this, but these days, it’s becoming impossible not to be a public persona.

Look at Super Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai. There aren’t a lot of public Japanese developers, at least not public from a Western perspective, but Sakurai has an active twitter presence, he writes a monthly column on game design in Famitsu magazine, and when developing a Smash Bros. game, makes daily updates to fans on his progress.

Nowadays, he posts pictures to the Smash Bros. community on miiverse, Nintendo’s Wii U social network. The most interesting comments are preserved by a blog called Please Sakurai, where the blog’s manager spotlights the posts made by people specifically trying to contact Sakurai.

 

Wherein Megaman is Sakurai, and DK is the fans.

Wherein Megaman is Sakurai, and DK is the fans.

As far as I know, Sakurai doesn’t speak English, but the people trying to reply to him, at least on the North American miiverse, don’t really know that. They request (mostly outlandish) characters, new info, and occasionally, get very angry and try to insult Sakurai personally for his design choices. 

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These aren’t the only mean-spirited comments on the blog, but they’re probably some of the most mean spirited. The blog doesn’t really highlight any posts that are people having rational, logical problems with the game, but knowing how the internet works, I have to imagine they’re very, very rare in the first place.

There are plenty of positive comments too, but always tied to requests. I know Sakurai can’t read these, so I’m left to imagine what would happen if he could. First of all he wouldn’t be able to do anything, because I’m pretty sure the character roster and choices about cutscenes were finalized a long time ago. But I wonder if he’d be disheartened by the negative comments. Maybe not enough to change anything, definitely not enough to make him quit, but enough to make him wonder why there are people who are dedicating their time and internet presence to attacking him.

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Not so say that communication between audience and creators is a bad thing. Look at what happened to Mass Effect. Fans got together and expressed their displeasure with the game, then found rational arguments, and presented a unified front. The organized campaign wasn’t one of personal attacks or internet bile, but of a reasoned argument made by people who loved Mass Effect, and wanted to see it end in a more satisfying way.

Whether they were right to do it, or if the ending actually sucked, or if their motivations were pure doesn’t matter. What does is that they created positive change in a game they loved by speaking with the creators. And they did it without resorting to being anonymous jerks on the internet, at least for the most part.

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The internet’s obsession with social media and reducing anonymity has opened this channel for people to communicate with creators. The audience and the artist are no longer separated by each other by security guards, PR handlers, critics, and the work they’re associated with. The two can now speak, one on one.

I think it does more good than bad. I think a lot of people have thick enough skin that an anonymous internet troll won’t affect them as much, and are more capable of focusing on the people who stay positive. I also think we might see more instances of fans banding together and creative negative change. Right now, focus grouping and the unbelievable success of Call of Duty has “told” publishers that first person shooters will always sell, and a game needs multiplayer to be viable. That’s completely different from this, but it’s not hard to imagine that publishers and market researchers will turn to the internet next, and look to the masses of uniformed fans who don’t necessarily know what they want out of a game until they get it.

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But, I also think that having this channel opened between artists and creators makes both more informed. Fans get to learn more about how the sausage is made, and developers find out more about what they people who play their games want. They can choose to listen or not, and then hope that when they don’t, the internet abuse will be worth it because they’ll know they’re right.

It’s become impossible not to be on some social network or another for people under 30, and as time keeps passing, less and less of people responsible for making the media we consume will be able to be private people. The internet has offered these people Pandora’s box. Do they want to hear exactly what fans want from them? Do they want to know what’s popular? Do they want to hear the personal stories of the people who were touched by the thing they made? All they have to do is open the box. But with that comes the abuse, the trolls, and the people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

For now, the choice is theirs. The box isn’t open for everyone just yet. But give it a few years, and there won’t be a single person left without a presence on the internet. After all, everyone always opens the box; we all just want to know what’s inside.

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EVO: The Evolution of a Community

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EVO: The Evolution of a Community

Evolution, or Evo, is an annual fighting game tournament held in Las Vegas. It’s sort of like the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup finals of fighting games, except instead of a selection of teams competing, every single fighting game player who flies out to Vegas is taking a shot at the grand prize. During the event, on-stream commentators continuously referred to the tournament as a mountain, and compared victory to scaling it. You don’t just have to beat the best at Evo, you have to beat everyone.

Evo’s traditional games are Capcom fighters. The Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom series make annual appearances, but other games shift in and out of the roster. SNK’s King of Fighters games, Namco-Bandai’s Tekken series, and this year, even Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Melee made its first appearance since 2007 as an official tournament game.

But that’s not really what Evo is about. No, Evo’s about something bigger. Well, a few things that are bigger. Evo 2013 had three matches in three games that perfectly exemplified was Evo is really about, and here they are.

Justin Wong vs. Chris G

"Going into Evo 2013, there was one name on everyone’s hitlist: Christopher “NY Chris G” Gonzalez."

I don’t really love sporting events. I’ve never been a big fan of sports, I don’t have much national pride, and think it’s sort of silly to cheer for a team because they have the name of my city on the back of their shirts. What I can get behind is a story, a rivalry, a heel and a face.

In baseball, everyone hates the New York Yankees. In hockey, Toronto and Ottawa have a long history of rivalry. In basketball, the Miami Heat might as well be the Yankees at this point. Going into Evo 2013's Marvel vs. Capcom 3 tournament, there was one name on everyone’s hitlist: Christopher “NY Chris G” Gonzalez.

Chris G plays Morrigan/Dr. Doom/Vergil, a team focused on covering the screen in Morrigan’s fireballs and Doom’s missles, juggling players between them, or just chipping away at them until they die. It’s a slightly boring strategy to watch in action, but it’s by far the most dominant team in the history of the game. Not only that, but he has a bit of an emotional streak. Chris lashed out at Evo founder Joey Cuellar over twitter a few weeks ago, referring to Cuellar as a “faggot.” Going in to the tournament, Chris wasn’t only the player to beat to prove your worth at the game, he was also the player everyone wanted to see knocked down a peg.

In MvC2, Storm was considered a top tier character, nowadays, she's just about average.

In MvC2, Storm was considered a top tier character, nowadays, she's just about average.

But back in the days of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, there was a different villain. Justin Wong. Justin won every single MvC2 tournament out there, he was legendary. His win streak in the game holds the record for the player to have won the most Evo tournaments for a single game ever. Justin and Chris have faced off before, recently even, but this one was for all the marbles. Whoever lost went home, and didn’t get a shot at the grand finals.

Chris, the favourite, took Justin down two matches in a best of three set. And then, the comeback happened. Watching the video still makes my heart beat faster, and I was close to ripping my hair out while I was watching it live. It’s some of the most incredible Marvel play I’ve ever seen. In case you haven’t seen that part of the video, Justin won. He won three games in a row, one from about as close to death as you can get in a game as fast paced as Marvel.

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The crowd was cheering Justin’s name as he played, jumping up and down and shaking the stage every time he took back a round from Chris. A few years ago, the crown would have booed him and resigned themselves to his inevitable victory, but now, he was up against the one man they all wanted to see go down. Even commentator Michael “IFC Yipes’ Mendoza, a fellow New Yorker who trained with Chris, was rooting for Justin by the end.

Chris probably isn’t a bad guy by any means, and one can only imagine how hard it must be to be part of a community that is so out for your blood, and hates seeing you succeed, but for a few minutes there, all that was put aside. For that whole comeback, it wasn’t about Justing Wong and Chris Gonzalez. It wasn’t even about the classic MvC2 east coast vs. west coast rivalry. It was about two giants of the game, two players renowned as the best, clashing with absolutely perfect play. It was about the hype of watching the good guys triumph over the bad guys. It was about watching an underdog win, even if that underdog is one of the best in the world.

Sometimes, Evo’s about the hype, and the legends behind the big matches.

Infiltration vs. PR Balrog

But sometimes, I don’t need a rivalry, I need personal stories. I need stories like Eduardo “PR Balrog” Perez’s. A player that came out of nowhere just a few years ago to become one of the best in the world, the last American player left standing in the top eight of Street Fighter this year. Or a story like Sun Woo “Infiltration” Lee’s, last year’s champion, playing for his tournament life after eliminating not only Daigo Umehara, the “god of Street Fighter” but also his best friend, sparring partner, and coach, Ryan “Laugh” Ahn in the most intense game of Street Fighter that’s ever been played.

"Lee had to win because he had to make sure beating his friend was worth it. Perez had the hopes of a nation on his back." 

After Lee beat Ahn, the two players turned away from each other in respect. They went into the match knowing that the loser would be going home empty handed, not even making it into top eight, and they played with every ounce of their skill. It was a slow, almost painful match to watch, with commentator and former Capcom employee Seth Killian pointing out that they were running down the clock just to avoid having to fight each other. 

Lee had to win because he had to make sure beating his friend was worth it. Perez had the hopes of a nation on his back. Both are two of the best players in the game. Lee took one match from Perez. Then Perez fought back and took two. It was looking to be Perez’s game until Lee used his privilege as the loser of the last match to switch his character. Lee is known for his dominant Akuma, widely considered to be one of the best characters in the game. He switched to Hakan, who looks like this:

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He’s not that great. Hakan is a Turkish oil wrestler who can oil himself up during battle to make himself a significantly more dangerous opponent, and when I say significantly, I mean that it turns him from one of the most worthless characters in the game into a top-tier threat. The only issue is that oiling up leaves Hakan open, and if the oil wears off in the middle of a combo, your damage output is shot. Needless to say, he’s not very popular in tournaments.

Sun Woo "Infiltration" Lee

Sun Woo "Infiltration" Lee

Which is why Perez had no idea how to fight him. Hakan is already a tough match for Balrog. Hakan likes to grab characters at very close range while Balrog likes to run right up and punch people, but doesn’t really have any answers for a grab. All this was made worse for Perez because there are really no high level Hakans to practice against, especially because Lee is the world’s best Hakan.

Perez didn’t know what hit him. In an utterly dominant set of games, Lee’s Hakan climbed back up and won two rounds, taking the set. The crowd was screaming, Hakan became a worldwide trending topic on twitter, no one could believe that they just saw a Hakan not only be played at Evo top eight, but that he just knocked out PR Balrog, the great American hope. 

Eduardo "PR Balrog" Perez

Eduardo "PR Balrog" Perez

Everyone was flipping out, unable to control themselves due to the hype when the match ended. But Perez and Lee were calm and collected. There was no anger, they knew that it was an incredible game they just played, maybe the best game of the tournament, and instead of the traditional post-game handshake, the two got up out of their chairs and gave each other a big hug.

Sometimes, Evo’s about the people and their love, not just for the game, but for each other.

 

Mango vs. Hungrybox

To continue the sports comparison, sometimes, there’s nothing that can get me into a sport. The stories aren’t good enough, the hype’s not great enough, and I go into it thinking I’ll be bored.

"To me, the people who broke down Smash Bros. and figured out how to remove all the randomness and understand the many, many hidden variables were developing an algorithm that churned out jazz."

 

Year ago, I used to play soccer with some kids from my tae kwon do class. None of us were “good” but we played as sort of a cooldown from the two hours of punching and kicking and pushups we just did. We weren’t playing it because it was a sport, we were playin it because it was a game. Soccer only needs a ball and something to mark off a goal, it’s the lingua franca of games, everyone gets it, and anyone can play it.

But whenever the World Cup is on TV, I always watch a game or two. Not because I love the sport of soccer, or I have any affiliation with a team, but because I have a respect for the game that anyone can play being played by the absolute best. Everyone plays hockey as a kid in Canada, but there are barriers there, you need to be able to afford the gear, it’s no cheap sport. Soccer is the cheapest sport in the world; literally everyone who can kick a ball has a shot at being the very best.

Street Fighter isn’t as simple as soccer, but it was born in the arcades, where one round cost 25 cents. It was the cheapest videogame to play, and it was all about who was the best. That’s might be a reason why the fighting game community is populated by so many visible minorities, who are very often, and very unfortunately, not given the same opportunities in this world as white people. Kids who couldn’t afford new games all the time, but could drop a few quarters on Street Fighter.

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But Street Fighter is too complicated to be a lingua franca of videogames. Super Smash Bros. wasn’t cheap, but it just might be simple enough to be a contender. I’ve never enjoyed Smash Bros. as a tournament level game. It was designed with elements of randomness, with certain factors and variables deliberately hidden from the players. A game designer once told me you want your games to feel more like freeform jazz than math. To me, the people who broke down Smash Bros. and figured out how to remove all the randomness and understand the many, many hidden variables were developing an algorithm that churned out jazz. Sure, it was recognizable as the the thing I love, but it wasn’t the same.  

After watching this video, and the whole Smash Bros. top eight, I still don’t like it as a tournament level game. I think matches take too long, characters aren’t distinct enough, strategies are boring, and positioning is pointless. I think playing on only a handful of stages without any items defeats the purpose of Smash Bros., a game all about randomness and goofy fun.

But, hearing the crowd cheer, and seeing two players that were obviously at the top of their game (check the moment at about 7:30 where Hungrybox’s Jigglypuff chases Mango’s fox all the way off screen, then expertly floats back to safety), made something click in my head. It’s not the tournament level game I want, but it’s the tournament game that thousands more do. Hell, the game made it in to Evo for the first time since 2007 this year because the fans won a charity drive; they love the game more than I could probably understand.

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I might not care about the World Cup, or the Super Bowl, or even the Stanley Cup finals, which my country places unbelievable importance on, but I care about Evo; because sometimes it’s not about me. It’s about something bigger.

It’s about the hype, the legends going into each match, the people who love the game, the people who just want to bond over their shared love of a game, the people who watch three days of tournament just to see the one guy who knocked them out make it to the top. Evo is about respecting a game, and falling into the hype. Evo is about a community, the fighting game community, and even though they’ve had some problems in the past, the very best of them, the ones on stage at the end of the night, they’re what shows you the community is great. People who inspire the hype, people who don’t let it get to their heads, and hug after a match, people who will respect another game, and another person.

Evo is about inspiring the community to be the best it can be. 

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Nintendo E3 Roundup: Megaman, Cat Mario, and Ennui

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Nintendo E3 Roundup: Megaman, Cat Mario, and Ennui

Nintendo came into E3 with good news and bad news. In good news, 3DS sales have picked up significantly since last year, and the handheld is no longer treading water. In bad news, the WiiU isn't exactly lighting the world on fire, in fact, it's only barely outselling Sony's bastard stepchild, the Vita. But with promises of price cuts, Smash Bros. and Mario games, can Nintendo turn the sinking WiiU ship around?

Nintendo went for a lower key presentation this year, sticking to the Nintendo Direct livestream format that's served them so well for the last little while. And it makes sense, after all, nothing they could show off would be as impressive as Sony's show last night, why go big when you know you can't win?

Nintendo started off by talking up the new Pokemon games, X and Y. They showed off a new Fairy type which will be applied to some new Pokemon, as well as a handful of old favorites, like Marill and Jigglypuff. They also showed a new mode for the game, Pokemon Amitie, which lets you interact with your Pokemon in a Nintendogs-like fashion. 

The next big game on the docket was Mario 3D World . In the vein of their New Super Mario Bros. titles the game features multiplayer for up to four players in levels that resemble the level design of stages from last year's Super Mario 3D Land.  Nintendo touted the fact that Princess Peach was playable again in a main Mario game, the first time since Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES. Also, Mario got in a cat suit and climbed up the flagpole at the end of the level. It was pretty neat.

Mario Kart 8 was then shown, and looked very similar to Mario Kart 7, but this time with hovercars. After a quick WiiU eShop sizzle reel, Nintendo talked up Wind Waker HD,  which will have some minor improvements over the original, including a speed-up function for sailing.

Retro Studio's Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze  was next up, with some quick gameplay shown off before Nintendo revealed another CG teaser for Bayonetta 2. Iwata seemed very excited about Bayonetta's "major makeover," which mostly included shorter hair. After aproximately 30 seconds of gameplay footage, Nintendo moved along to another Platinum game, The Wonderful 101, which launches in September. 

Nintendo gave us a quick look at X , the spiritual sequel to Xenoblade , also developed by Monolith Soft. The new trailer featured giant transforming robots which fought dinosaurs in RPG combat. 

Finally, Nintendo played themselved out with the first trailer for the new Super Smash Bros.. The trailer showed off both the 3DS and Wii U versions of the game. The handheld game looked more cartoony than it's console sibling, but the big news were the two new characters. Well, one of them. First was the player character from Animal Crossing , who fights with various tools from the game. The second new character was Megaman. In the trailer, he swapped between weapons from various Megaman games as a remix of Wily's theme from Megaman 2  played. The trailer ended off with Megaman battling a still-forming Yellow Devil, a recurring character from his series.

All in all, it was a bit of a plain event. Nintendo just focused on the games, which kept it brief and to the point, but you really do get a sense that need something more to push the Wii U. If last year's E3 events are anything to go by, Nintendo has some more announcements in store for the weeks to come, but for now, they aren't going to be leaving E3 with any trophies. 

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