King’s Field and Shadow Tower: Some Mini Reviews of Fromsoftware’s PS1 work

So when I hang out with my friends, I usually waste time in between chatter playing old games. Often odd or old things I wouldn’t normally bother which but might be of some interest to me from a more… academic perspective. And this usually ends up with me finding new games to love too.

So when I loaded King’s Field up, I expected to be put off by it’s horrible combat and ugly aesthetics immediately. Instead I found myself immediately compelled. I find myself now, having worked all the way up to King’s Field: The Ancient City on the PS2, with a translated copy of Shadow Tower: Abyss waiting to be played after it. So here are my thoughts on these crazy games that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. RPGs aren’t really my thing anymore but the first person movement gave me just enough tactile feedback to get really into these games.

As usual with these kinds of reviews I do, I’m not going to summarize stuff like the basic plot or how the game works. You can use wikipedia or youtube for that. I’m mostly just gonna focus on the stuff I have thoughts about.

King’s field 2

I’m going to be using the Japanese numbering for this (basically KF2 is KF1 in US and thus 3 is 2 and so on and so forth), even though I didn’t bother to play King’s Field 1. A cursory reading about King’s Field 1 made it clear to me that King’s Field 2 was the best of the PS1 offerings and that it pretty much did everything the original did better.

King’s Field 2 is an ass ugly game. The biggest visual improvement from KF1 seems to be the use of different floor textures…. most of the time. Still, the game was immediately compelling. You start out shipwrecked on the island of Melanat and despite the game the crude graphics. The sharp outlines of everything tried their damnedest to convey the sense of A PLACE. Right from the start you have watery pits to fall in, a huge boss kraken thing you won’t fight for another boss or two, a waterfall and cave filled with skeletons, a lighthouse powered by fire magic, some creepy looking fisherman NPC, a pirate cove filled with traps and treasures and a more forgiving cave.

The combat is terrible but somehow works. You circle around things to avoid the attack and hit them with your slow moving first person sword swing. Positioning and enemy management matters a lot in this. The attacks FEEL awful but the amount of interaction makes it tolerable. Magic also helps a tad. MP starts out as an incredibly rare, precious resource to the backbone of your offense.

The enemies in this game look unbelievably stupid and crude, but somehow in a way that captures the awkward weird joy of later Souls games. By the end of King’s Field 2, I found my self in love with those stupid looking Watermelon Head Eater Things. It’s infectious. The whole game is infectious. While technically a dungeon crawler, I feel the need to reject the label. Far from the more abstract dungeons of most games like this, Melanat. It has personality. It’s internals wind together and intersect. The more you play the game the more you feel that you understand it. In game maps were useful for exploring new areas, while old areas were almost immediately committed to memory. In many ways, it’s stage design was mimicked by the original Dark Souls, constantly surprising you with how areas intersect and being navigable by memorable rooms. Given the rough nature of the graphics, memorable could be anything from “Cool castle entrance” to “There is a hole”. But it all works.

“It works” Describes a lot of the game and it’s aesthetic. Crude NPCs lend a creepy atmosphere to the game, their textureless heads turning slowly to speak with you. It’s unnerving but the mood of the game is unnerving. The music is… strangely offputting, but in a good way. Like Demon’s Souls, the game’s ugliness becomes part of its charm. This is a game that should be tedious and boring yet it dragged me through it’s entirety with excitement. While not a game I would recommend without warning, it became a game I unabashedly love. Beautifully thought out world design is my jam and this game has tons of it.

The game has some fascinating mechanics, many you see show up in later games. Crystal Flasks might as well be estus. You find them or construct them out of crystals and fill them up with wells. You eventually find wells that heal MP instead and eventually find both (which seems to be something that shows up in DS3 from what I’ve heard?). The warping mechanic is great. Instead of having fixed warp points, you can leave a ‘key’  at a save to use a corresponding ‘gate’ item to teleport to. You find up to 3 sets of these by the end of the game. The flexibility to set your own warp points allowed for just the right amount of backtracking to make me love and understand the world. You could balance convenience against repetition and by the time you have all 3 sets and understand the island, it becomes a non issue. The perfect flow. There are weird things in the game, like an NPC who magically pops up in random places from time to time who identifies your items. You can’t know when she’ll appear. Maybe not the best choice, but an interesting one. Many doors are textured like walls. They have frames to tell you they’re there but it makes it easy to miss stuff. This is something that fortunately goes away in King’s  Field 3. Oh yeah there is also a minecart ride that kills you 90% of the time and rewards you with basically nothing if you survive. Which is… odd.

There seems to be a decent about of lore, but I couldn’t say much about it. The last boss, Guyra, a one eyed black dragon, is clearly the inspiration for Kalameet. Seath is treated like a holy figure in this.  Granted, it’s not the same Seath, but it’s interesting to see these ideas revisited and adapted.

In the end, it’s hard to even say why King’s Field 2 is great. So much of it is crude as hell and really shows it’s age. But there is just a lot of brilliance in the game too. I’m left with a fondness for Melanat that mirrors my love of Lordran. By the end it kinda… feels like home?

King’s Field 3

King’s Field 3 is like the Dark Souls 2 of King’s Field. It improves the game in so many ways and is far FAR more ambitious. You start out with a giant field, filled with buildings and NPCs. The Headeaters are now venus fly traps. That made me sad! Fortunately the old ugly ones return later on. Anyways the game is now sprawling and its level design more literal and sensible. The game looks infinitely better. Screenshots might not truly capture it but the environments look so much more involved and the enemies look… Still ugly but much much less so. It’s also important to remember for this and KF2 — these are seamless games with no load times. So some ugliness is to still be expected.

The game gives you an automapper somewhat early on. While not necessary for KF2, this is much more necessary for the sprawling maze like levels of KF3. KF3 gets even closer to the dreaded “Dungeon Crawler” level design and dungeons play more like Legend of Zelda-esque areas than actual parts of the world. You go in, you clear the area, you leave. Compared to the interconnected nature of KF2, this was a huge let down to me. Verdite lacked the sense of “place” that Melanat had, despite having much better visuals. The music too is a lot more… on the nose. Not bad, but lacking the same personality.

Combat feels better. You know more clearly if you hit something and enemies at least TRY to counteract you spinning around them. You get magic faster too, which gives you much better options faster. Warping is greatly simplified, with 4 items to find for 4 preset gates before allowing you to warp everywhere by the end. Warping everywhere by the end is good but it was sad to see the system from KF2 leave, even if it would have been terrible in a map this big.

The game has a ton of lore and I couldn’t even begin to explore it. You get an mirror item that tells you about every area, every enemy and every NPC. All lines of dialog are saved for viewing in the menu. So you could comb through this game for tons of info if you wanted.

The game has some cool, crude visuals and works FMV cutscenes in it, sometime on top of gameplay (where you’re few will suddenly have compression artifacts because it switched to a video). You could tell with this game they were trying to go all out.

In the end the game is way way more playable than  KF2 and has many clever ideas, but it just missed the same spark. It felt more… typical. Much like Dark Souls 2, it spreads itself out and tries to be grand but that grandness makes it ultimately more ordinary.

But hey at the end you get to fight Giant Gundam Seath and that’s pretty cool?

Shadow Tower

 OH BOY SHADOW TOWER. This might be the most interesting game of the three. KF2 might still be my favorite Shadow tower is a fucking slog of a game, especially early on. It’s also d
eeply miserable without maps. And there are no in game maps. But with them, the game and it’s horrendous draw distance becomes playable. Because the game is dark. Darker than it even needs to be. But god damn does it look better. There is a color scheme to things. and the textures play nice and the enemies look great. And there are so many of them. This game has 160 monsters and they almost all have absolutely crazy designs. This is the true start of the Demon’s Souls aesthetic. Dark, grimy and depressing with awkward looking monsters that are so goofy they roll around to scary. Demons that hop on their tongues, weird wiggly glow in the dark tree plants, muscular monsters with heads that are like blooming meat flowers. They’re great.

The game has no music. Silence. It’s off putting. The visuals are often bleak. You start on ‘top’ of the shadow tower, a tower that has sunken into the ground. The areas of the game have ominous names. “Human World: The Forgotten Region” or “Death World: The Lingering Curse Layer” or “Beast World: THE SCREECHING AREA” (these are area names you do not want to see). The visuals area bleak. This clean, brind cylinder extending up and down seemingly into infinity. You see stairs and can make your way to a number of doors into areas around the tower that have sunken underground. But you keep coming back to the tower, lower and lower. The map design is at its weakest here overall, but the constant return to the Shadow Tower gives the game the hold it needs to give a sense of progression.

The survival aspect horrors of the game are strong. Weapons degrade, and fast. The items to repair them are rare. Smithys are also rare. The currency they use to repair? Your health. Health Potions? Also a finite resource. Fortunately you can trade broken or obsolete items for them. And thankfully they always grant full health. There is a very clear economic circle here and it is a tense one early in the game. Nothing is renewable until much later in the game so you constantly feel like you’re falling to pieces. There is another currency, cunes. Also a rare item — there are, as I understand, 99 in the whole game? And the shop is the same shop everywhere, so the items you see at the start are the items you see at the end. I saved up for a helmet that restored MP over time early on and it was game changing. “Infinite magic!” I thought, until I realized casting spells degraded my rings. Oh well, can’t have everything.

The NPC interactions feel very Demon’s Soulsy. A demon in a doll body asks you to kill a man who trapped her. a knight being crushed by a boulder begs you to sacrifice a sword to save his life (and remember, SWORDS ARE IMPORTANT AND LIMITED). Some gnome things curses you over and over and begs for his life like a coward when you corner him. Also there is a fat mole who is totally your bro.

As you go from the more human world to elemental planes the game starts feeling real surreal. There is just tons of atmosphere. It just suffers from the fact that the game is so initially impenetrable and the map design that doesn’t work with the super dark game. Getting around without a map is an almost impossible chore. I’m not sure even KF2’s map would have worked under these lighting conditions. The automapper from KF3 would have been a massive improvement, where you could know where you were going while not quite spoiling areas immediately by checking maps.

Funny thing is when you beat an area, it lightens up. So they could have gotten away with it. I assume the darkness was to mask enemies spawning in (which they do, unlike in the KF games). This looks weird in illuminated areas, but not so weird as to be a bad tradeoff. The enemy spawning is interesting though. There are a finite amount of enemies in the game. As you kill enemies in a room, replacement spawn elsewhere, often in the same room, but sometimes not. You’ll return to an area you thought you cleared out, sometimes to find a horrific surprise. Often this can lead to cool items being dropped though, so you have an incentive to clear things out. Killing enemies also I think… basically IV trains you, like pokemon? There is no leveling in the game. Beating stuff up and killing certain enemies raises your stats. It’s interesting and kinda works?

The game is linear in nature but it does some clever things to disguise it. There are sometimes multiple ways to get down the tower and sometimes you can even jump down to a set of stairs you can only barely see.  You often still end up covering the same areas or coming back later, but it makes the tower feel more like a space you’re trying to conquer than a completely abstract area.

The game also has NG+ (I think? Or maybe you’re just back at the top of the tower to clear it out?) and a rather… Soulsy ending. A flawed gem that was only a few changes away from being truly great. and the game with the  strongest aesthetic ties to the Souls series. It makes me more excited for Shadow Tower Abyss than King’s Field 4 and I hear KF4 is AWESOME.

While I can only recommend KF2 with some reservations, I can only recommend Shadow Tower with a LOT of reservations. But it’s interesting and if you want to play a game as a curiosity and see some of the evolution of the Souls series, Shadow Tower is AWESOME.

Brave Earth: Prologue – Difficulties

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything let me talk about what I’ve been working on lately. Difficulties!

Brave Earth contains 4 different difficulty setting: Beginner, Easy, Standard and Advanced. The difficulties don’t simply change things like the amount of damage you deal or take, but also things like the amount of pushback you receive from being hit, enemy placement and even on Beginner, geometry. So the stated goals of each difficulty go like this.

Standard: To be a complete, fun but challenging experience for the average player with fun but fair enemy placements and a thought out difficulty curve. Intended to be the first difficulty, even for players familiar with the genre.

Easy: To provide a gentler game experience for gamers who are perhaps a bit lacking on platformer experience. Some hairy situations have changed or removed enemies. The goal is to make the game easier without insulting the player and to provide a gentler difficulty curve, with most changes being earlier in the game. Player takes slightly less damage and knockback.

Beginner: To give hope to those with very little experience in general. The goal is to still provide highpoints and difficult situations for the player, just on a much simpler scale. Damage is drastically reduced and the player receives no knockback from enemies. Filler blocks are used to fill in many difficult platforming segments.

Advanced: In advanced, the goal is to add elements to standard to make a more challenging and fresh experience. Difficulty curve is thrown out the window in favor of interesting enemy encounters. Player also receives additional damage and pushback.

Anyways I’ve set up some examples.

normalplatThis is an easy segment from stage one for the player to get introduced to some jumping. There are pits, but the game assumes most people playing this will have some level of platforming experience and don’t need super introductory platforming early on (Their is also a tutorial stage for that).

easyplatBut on Beginner, these holes get filled in to help new players through it. Not every hole is filled in Beginner, but the exposed pits are chosen much more carefully.

I also have an example of enemy placements for one segment…

standard

This is from the middle of Stage 1 and is a difficult segment for new players. The Zweihander soldiers are real jerks and the bandit enemies come from both directions. The player can trick the second zweihander soldier (a doppelsoldner, for the record) into the pit to spare themselves a difficult encounter.

easy

Easy has a small but significant change. The first Doppelsoldner is replaced with an archer, who still provides a challenge in this situation but is less overwhelming. With that and reduced damage, this section is slightly more managable.

beginner

Beginner has a significant reduction of enemies, removing bandits who ambush from the above and rear. The bottom encounter is completely changed — a mad bomber over flat terrain. Challenging, but with the player’s reduced damage, not a real threat, hopefully providing some fun. The hole has also been filled up.

advanced

Advanced is… tricky. Two archers have been added. Archers below you can fire up to hit you, so now the player has to dodge the lower archer while dealing with bandits above and both Dopplesoldners have firecover now. This segment is completely handleable by an experienced player and not so different from encounters found later in the game. In advanced though, it can happen in level 1 because that’s what advanced is for.

So hopefully with these difficulty options I’ll be able to both give a level of accessibility while at the same time providing a good, challenging harder mode for those looking for a challenge.

How to Ask Game Design Question

I saw two posts on a forum that I vaguely sometimes follow (despite my better judgement) that encapsulated a lot of what I see beginning designers do wrong with questioning design. They ask questions like these two… (No offense to these two posters, you just made good examples)

“Do fighting games need chip damage?”

“Are dizzies in fighting games good?”

These topics got good answers and discussions and asking them as is was better than not asking at all, but I believe this is the wrong way to ask these types of questions. The question shouldn’t be if something needs something — nothing needs anything (okay not strictly true, but whatever). Good is intensely subjective. The question should more be along the lines of…

Why do fighting games have chip damage? What does chip damage DO?

This is step one for any other question! “Oh, chip damage forces people to act rather than block forever (usually against keep away characters) in situations where throws aren’t a threat.” yeah you could say more about what chip damage does, but this works here. From here you can ask the other two questions! Is this good? Well doing nothing in a game about doing stuff is one of those things that is usually bad, so nah, this is good. But you can imagine situations where this question isn’t cut and dry. For example “This mechanic rewards players with higher APMs in RTSs”. Depending on who you ask you’ll hear differing opinions on whether thats a good feature for a game to have . The goals of the designer and of the game will decide if that is good.

And now you can look at “do they need this” in a meaningful way. Do you want to support those features in a 2d game with distance zoners? No? Well maybe you don’t need it. But at the same time, it is my understanding (though this is an area outside of my expertise) that most 3d fighters have chip damage on everything (And soul calibur 5 might even have it on throw breaks? Not sure). Those games, due to the timing and recovery of attacks, usually have more risks associated with attacking (since you can more easily be punished). so chip damage is another way to help force action and allow players benefits from using the longer attack string sequences 3d games are designed with. Okay. But lets say you hate chip damage! You can replace it with stuff! Guard breaks, intense meter gain for the attacker, a Guilty Gear style RISC bar (GG still has chip damage but I’d say it doesn’t NEEEEEED chip damage. Even if it benefits from having it). You can do a bunch of stuff I’m probably not thinking of. But you have some idea the shape of the design piece you’re taking out of the game design puzzle and what you’d have to replace it with for things to work.

You can get good answers from a poorly framed question and bad answers from a well framed question, but asking the well framed question helps you more likely get the information you need and frames things in your mind to tackle the issue in a more thoughtful and useful way.

Horrible hacks and Language Support in BEP

Usually I don’t do too many updates anymore because I’m afraid of just running out of material and showing the whole game off before it’s done, but this should be fun.

So one thing I noticed with IWBTG is that it was very popular in Japan and the Japanese fans of my work are super cool. While this popularity probably won’t extend over to BE:P, I still always wanted the game to be easily localizeable for them. Unfortunately, far too late in the development, I discover Construct Classic doesn’t support unicode. Brutal!

So in the last two days I implemented a hack I’ve been thinking about for awhile. Construct uses the ANSI character set, provides 217 characters. BE:P uses 83 of those characters by default. The rest of the characters are accented letters and bizzare stuff like § or † or even ‡! Really wacky symbols. So most of that could all go. Unfortunatey, even if I used all 217 characters, that would be an insignificant amount of kanji. FORTUNATELY, basically all NES games were written, due to space issues, in kana. Kana lends it’s self better to this, being two syllabic character sets. Between alternative characters and japanese diacritic marks, the set comes out to 100ish characters, just barely squeezing in. In fact this is apparently how any “English -> JP” fan translations end up being done.

So the next step would be keying ansi characters to kana. Fortunately, BE:P doesn’t use a real font or anything so it’s easy for me to make a character appear however I’d like. Characters are searched for on a big key string and that index is used to set the text objects frame. The character key when Japanese is enabled looks like….

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz!/#$&'()*+,-./0123456789:;<=>? @`;€ƒ„…†‡ˆ‰Š‹ŒŽ‘’“”•–—™š›œžŸ¡¢£¤¥¦§¨©ª«¬1®¯°±²³´µ¶·¸¹º»¼½¾¿ÀÁÂÃÄÅÆÇÈÉÊËÌÍÎÏÐÑÒÓÔÕÖ×ØÙÚÛÜÝÞßàáâãäåæçèéêëìíîïðñòóôõöøùúûüýþÿ”

Everything up to ? and ” ” is represented in game in english. @ and ` are controller characters for linebreaks in the dialog engine and everything after that is dedicated to kana. So if we were to search for “©” on this string it would come up as character 120. Frame 120 of the text object is the pixel version of “は”. Easy breezy! The dialog file also has support for easily creating additional text boxes. This is going to be important for Japanese because “kana only” japanese is, screen space wise, pretty inefficient and the kana font I’m using now only allows for 3 lines of text to english’s 4. Still, it ends up looking really nice! Also in this setup, I can easy change the secondary characters. The game can only display one set at a time, but that still allows me to implement all accented latin characters, or Cyrillic or any other non-logographic character set.

Of course this brings up the issue… if construct can’t handle UNICODE, how can I even read the dialog? Oh, well I had to hack together a crummy little python script that’ll read a file and “encode” it into the hacked ANSI characterset setup. So when release is near (it isn’t) I’ll make that available to help people localize the game in other languages if they want without having to resort to dealing with super gross hacks directly.

bepkana2

Not sure if the Katakana is even right, but it’s looks pretty cool!

Scanlines, CRTs, Faux Retro games and whatever

So I was browsing 4chan, as I often do (because I make bad decisions) and decided to drop into /vr/. Without fail there will be a thread about scanlines and NTSC/CRT/RF shaders. I actually find this interesting, because despite not caring about the aesthetic, I do want to have some sort of filter for Brave Earth that isn’t just “lazy scanline overlay”. So I ran into this and found it hilarious.

1391807722376

Personally, the appeal there for me, is baffling and I’m no sure it’s going t make people wish indie devs were “more accurate” with retro stuff. My first memories as a child involve me playing on my mom’s Atari 2600 and my uncles NES after that. All on crappy old CRT sets over RF. Hell we had one of those hilarious furniture looking console TVs. Maybe it was building sprites in Mario paint, or the better pixel quality of computer monitors and making games in ZZT and megazeux, but the whole “retro means blurry and with scanlines” thing never quite clicked for me. I see thing as pixels. When I play games on the CRT I still use for console games because I’m cheap more than anything, I don’t “see” blurry phosphors. Since our brains fill in a lot of details for us, in my head I’m seeing pixels. So games emulated on LCDs are a plus to me. I like big clunky sharp pixels. Other friends I have look for stuff like framemeisters or buy line doubles and scanline generators to get something closer to what they see in their heads when they play retro games. That’s all cool. It’s awesome to try and recreate things in the past to preserve it for the future. IT’s why stuff like Higan (a super accurate and CPU intensive multi console emulator) are important, even if I will never bother using it.

Still there is a growing number of purists I see getting mad about this stuff. It won’t be a big deal if it was just crazy people /vr/ or those crazy shmup forms or whatever, but I’ve seen even people I know say shit like “this game couldn’t run on the original hardware” or “this isn’t what retro games look like”! I even had one person I know complain that Jamestown had too many bullets for a Neo-Geo game, which is absurd since Jamestown doesn’t claim to be anything. So here are some thoughts on all this, because it’ll probably only get worse once BEP is out (in 50 years).

But old games were designed to be viewed on CRTs!

This is mostly bologna and the thing you need to ask your self is, for any technique, would the art designer NOT have done that if their art was on a LCD or better quality display? Things like dithering come up a lot. Something like say the contra logo… on a CRT the colors blur together more, making the gradient smoother. But the technique of dithering has been used quite often on LCD screens (Just look at Jim’s portrait in this EWJ gameboy port) or in PC Games forever. Acting like LCDs and CRTs is silly — they obviously have visual differences, but there are really very few techniques you’d use exclusively on a CRT. Besides, this is basically any unfalsifiable anyways since we can’t know what the artists were intending or not intending. I would imagine you’d see both artists glad to see their art viewed crisply, and ones who are disappointed by it.

with modern indie stuff where this stuff is thrown around (like with the picture at the beginning of the post)… well, I’ll have more to say about that later, but for now I just wanna say… Play the games on a CRT. Why is it the game’s responsibility to pretend it’s something else? If you plug an NES into an LCD it doesn’t give you scanlines and blur. Internally, for the purposes of this discussion, “retro” indie games and old video games are sending the same thing — an array of pixels. How the device they’re connected to displays them is the displays business.

Besides, this all doesn’t matter anyways. Many greek statuses were intended to be painted, but we prefer clean white marble. Modern statues and modern pixel art reflects that change. Even if it’s not accurate, it’s what most people enjoy and prefer now.

This game claims to be like a (insert console) game but it does this that and the other thing wrong!

If we wanted to make a perfectly accurate game, we’d probably all do what Battle Kid did or what Retro City Rampage tried to do. Most of us don’t. What we want varies. Some of us are just using lo-fi aesthetics as they’re one of the faster style to make while still being a style people respond to well (and remember, making games is hard, especially by yourself. Try it sometimes, it’s fun!). Some care a little bit more about the whole package. When this discussion comes up with people I know, oftne they’re like “Oh but you’re using colors and stuff in a mostly authentic way, you’re okay”… Like, am I? I modified the NES palettes to give me new colors I didn’t have, I don’t obey rules regarding sensible sprite sizes. I have far to many objects on screen at once and like megaman, these already large sprites would need to use MORE sprites just to get the density of color of some sprites.

In fact, adding those extra colors on Naomi was a big thing to me. When I made a mockup and asked people if I should give her more colors (technically possible, but not in the overall picture of the game), people pretty much universally said “Yes. Do it. Why wouldn’t you do it?”. For most people, they want the style up until the point where it interferes with the game. That’s why BEP has a third button. Oh sure I can say it’s start or whatever, but that’s an excuse.

This is the thing with art and fashion. When someone takes stuff from the 80s and 90s, no one (sane) ever goes “OH YEAH WELL IN THE 80S NO ONE WOULD WEAR THEIR HAIR LIKE THAT” because that’s not how fashion works. We take aspects we like forward. We take things that are familiar and transform them. I personally feel that if everyone who made “retro” games tried to, collectively, be more accurate about this stuff we’d be WORSE off. We’d just be wanking nostalgically to things that have already been done, instead of using the past as a spring board into the future… and that’s someone who loves when people maintain history. Making games for old hardware is some awesome digital SCA type stuff. But it’s historical more than anything.

Brave Earth started relatively more accurate earlier on and has gotten progressively more ridiculous in some of the things I put on the screen. But I don’t regret this — when I started this was supposed to be a small free project that didn’t have to move things forward. Now it’s something far more ambitious and better offfor it. It has an identity beyond being “Castlevania but with a sword”. Retro City Rampage also moved on once the shell of the NES got too hard for it to be contained inside and while some may bemoan that all that’s left is a prototype rom, most people are happier for the change. If all retro graphics mean to you is reliving your childhood and everything that comes with it, well… I don’t think much retro indie games are even meant to appeal to you.

We need to understand, lo-fi and pixel art and all that is a STYLE. Do you think the superbrother games are trying to be like a “retro game” and that they would look better if their games seemed more ‘authentically 8/16 bit’? No, and that’d be completely missing the point. People will point to Ridiculous Fishing as being “retro” when the art in the game is composed almost entirely of triangles. There is a huge gradient hereof how these styles can manifest and anyone is free not to like them…but to act like a certain kind of style is somehow more noble is ridiculous. You can still criticize how a style is executed but we have to realize that most of this is a matter of taste and priorities. We all have different desires and developers have different goals. I get driven crazy when games that MOSTLY get it right do things like transparency and sprite rotations, personally. I’m sure Brave Earth will set off people on different issues. But then people will complain that IWBTG doesn’t maintain a consistent pixel density and uses rotating sprites and stuff and it’s like… seriously? Did you miss the point that hard?

The past is a tool and we should not be slaves to it… and that said, I’m still going to try and get construct to do some amount of CRTish effects as a toggle option because I hate my self.

NES VRC6 mod with CV3/Akumajou Densetsu cart

Gyromite

Gyromite

So this all started with reading about how gyromites occasionally containing famicom converters. Due to early supply constraints during the NA release, the first run of gyromite carts all contained these funky little adaptor, which allowed them to resell famicom gyromite in the US. So I tracked down my gryomite cart, felt it was clearly super heavy and cracked it open.

Gyromite, disconnected from the FC converter

Gyromite, disconnected from the FC converter

The inside of Gyromite, with FC converter

The inside of Gyromite, with FC converter

A converter! Hooray! So immediately I decided I wanted to make my self an Akumajou Densetsu cart. CV3 is my favorite castlevania, and I much prefer the Japanese version to the US version (mostly due to the music, but also because I hate level based damage scaling). So I went and google and found this cute mod. Now I REALLY needed to make that cart. So I ordered an Akumajou Densetsu famicom cart and began planning out the rest of the mod. I didn’t wanna do the wire-out-of-cart mod — that’s cute but kinda ugly. So I began researching how I’d do the console mod. Turns out there are like a million small variations on how to do this, so that took me forever to work out.
Also had to take the time to do my version of the cover. Callan’s nice looking and was the basis for mine, but certain elements, like weirdly cropped art and the logo didn’t work for me. Since there was no good scans of the CV3 splash art, I had to sorta rebuild the logo. In the end, I did the label with photo paper and some glue. Worked much better than the ‘label’ method. Label method gets the label thickness right, but lacks the clarity of a nice print.

Akumajou Densetsu with my custom logo

Akumajou Densetsu with my custom logo

I cannot explain how much hell this was to get out of that fucking case

I cannot explain how much hell this was to get out of that fucking case

Anyways eventually I got all my components and decided my course of action. One source of confusion for this mod was the resistors. Resistors are required to balance the audio of the VRC6 with the NES, else the VRC instruments will overpower everything. Most recommend 47k resistors, but other recommendations, especially with famicom carts, went up to 100k resistors. So instead I just got a 100k pot. There were also several different unused pins you could use on the nes for this mod and I decided to use the same one as the powerpak. I doubt I’ll be buying a 120$ powerpak any time soon, but hey, best to be careful. Then I could also adjust the volume accordingly.

The annoying thing with the powerpak pin is it required me to wrap a wire around the converter. It also sucked because that pin was harder to solder without interfering with the contacts. Worked out fine in the end. The internal mod on the NES was much simplier. The NES has extended audio capables, but they were only made to work through the expansion port on the bottom of the NES. Soldering the pot between expansion port 9 (the expansion music min) and port 3 (audio out) was all that was needed to get the mod working. The pins didn’t take solder well, so it was a bit of a pain, but working on those pins felt less risky, so it wasn’t that big a deal.

Connecting to pin 54 on the other side

Connecting to pin 54 on the other side

Connecting to pin 45

Connecting to pin 45

Pin 3 and Pin 9, with the pot through the front. Just need a nice dial now.

Pin 3 and Pin 9, with the pot through the front. Just need a nice dial now.


Anyways here’s a little peak at the mod. Sorry for the poor quality and rotated video. I’ll probably stream the game tomorrow.

On “Being a Hardcore Gamer”

I’ve been seeing this pop up from time to time in twitch chats I hang out recently “Oh they play Call of Duty like a casual”, “Oh consoles are for the casual market”, “Oh I’m not casual, I play Dark Souls” or whatever. There are two components here that bother me. First is that there is an overly large focus on the “What” rather than the “How”. Secondly the whole thing is stupid to begin with (but we’ll get that).

Being a hardcore gamer is treated more of being part of a group than being a mode of playing. People talk about “What” they play to determine there status. This isn’t being “hardcore” this is like fashion in highschool. “Oh I’m not like those popular kids, I where band shirts and am hella edgy”. Playing on a PC doesn’t make you a “hardcore gamer”. I know many people who would describe themselves as relatively casual gamers who are HUGE tech enthusiasts. They want to achieve the best looking games at the best framerates, but their playing is, admittedly, casual. I know people who were hardcore into Call of Duty, playing it with a super competitive mindset. In fact, I can’t see anything casual at all about playing a multiplayer shooter. Hell I know people who are crazy sick at bejeweled. Telling me what you play, on what platform, tells me very little about you as a gamer outside of your tastes. I want to hear about HOW you play. It’s about how you use play to express your self.

The whole ‘hardcore/casual’ dichotomy is stupid because it isn’t binary. It isn’t a ladder. It’s barely even a spectrum. If you appreciate how we play differently, it no longer becomes about being fundamentally “better” than some other kind of gamer. It’s hard to try and keep up that dichotomy when you know how far the rabbit hole goes. Most of the people I see complaining about I can look at go “Hardcore? You’re all casual. Behold my works and despair” but I also know how feeble and insignificant my accomplishments are compared to others I know. The only thing I know is we’re all passionate about games and we are often passionate about them differently. For example, skill wise, I’d say I’m pretty damn accomplished, but how many games do I actually play? Not to many. My friend Rachel jokes that I don’t even actual LIKE videogames. On the other hand there are people with less hand eye coordination than me who are just up on the whole videogame zeitgeist. They play everything (possibly quite well!) and are passionate about new releases and discussing them. Who am I compared to them? Some old grouch who’s really good at some old games. That’s an entirely different axis completely than “people, skill wise, are better than me”. Some people measure stuff totally different. For me, my gut interpretation of MMOs is that they’re kinda ‘casual’ in some strange way that only makes sense in my dumb head, but that is CLEARLY not the case and for many people the coordination and dedication required to excel at an MMO is the greatest thing in games. Any TBS game puts me to sleep, but for many, the games I like are for impatient ADD people!

So there is basically no standard for anything here. We can’t even agree on what are the most worthwhile skills. We can’t possibly make a pecking order out of all this. It’s literally the geek hierarchy thing

Please stop misusing “Freedom of Speech” and “Censorship”

I can’t believe that I’m writing a blog post where the two driving forces at Duck Dynasty and Bravely Default, but here we are.

So some weeks ago, some old dude on some A&E show made some homophobic comments in an interview. Due to Duck Dyantsy’s absurd popularity, this made a whole lot of people on facebook really mad. A common sentiment was “But this is America! What about FREEDOM OF SPEECH!” or whatever. Freedom of Speech, coming up over and over again. I almost feel embarrassed writing about this, because I feel like it should be ridiculously obvious, but it isn’t. I’ve even seen it come up in many intelligent circles, with even one… quite well known game designer and writer who’s forum I used to post on a lot. “We can’t ban people on this forum, this forum supports free speech” (unsurprisingly that did not work out). Needless to say, this is not how freedom of speech works (and this serves as a perfect intro to censorship talk).

Freedom of Speech (in the US at least) protects you from the Government. Protection from other people would infringe on those peoples freedom of speech. If you say something that offends me, it is my right to be offended. If you work for me and hold opinions I find offensive it is my right to not employ you. If this wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t need non-discrimination laws. No where in the idea of Freedom of Speech was the intent that you shouldn’t be judged by society for your shitty opinions. The idea is that you should not fear the Government (a ‘more powerful’ entity) and legal repercussions for saying things. Your friends might disown you, but you won’t end up for prison for saying shit (… well, maybe not so much anymore, but you know what I mean). Where this idea that saying something gave you a magical shield is beyond me. I dunno about you, but I don’t know if I want “Freedom to be a douchebag without any social ramifications” as a basic right. Just sayin’.

So now there is this Bravely Default shit. People are complaining about censorship left and right. Also lets just ignore the whole fact that people are complaining about not getting under aged girls in thongs. Plenty of people are arguing about that and I’ll leave that to them….

So unlike the Freedom of Speech thing — they’re right. It is censorship. The issue is people don’t seem to realize the difference between self inflicted censorship and government enforced censorship. When a smug tumblr 14 year old sends someone a nasty Ask about Bravely Default to someone, declaring “I don’t believe in censorship”, what don’t they believe in? “I read 1984, I know how scary censorship can be!” Even if that has nothing to do with a company modifying it’s own content. Do they not believe that I, the owner and content creator of my own work, shouldn’t change it? Fuck you. You don’t even know all the things that got ‘censored’ before these games were even released. Is that still censorship? Do you still care and not believe in it? What gives you the right? They are treating two hugely different concepts as one and applying the gravitas of government control to a taste choice made by content creators with their own content.

You can COMPLAIN about changes (HELLO STAR WARS), or you can complain about the reasons for the changes if you really want, but to act like they’re doing something inherently bad or immoral by modifying their content is absurd and selfish. In a sense, you’re attempting to ‘censor’ the desires of the creators. You’re not against censorship — you don’t understand what it even is. You’re just against not getting the thing you wanted and are now crying about it.

I’ve actually had friends ask me why I was ‘censoring’ myself with changes I’ve made to unfinished games, which to me raised a lot of questions. Should I not account for taste or my audience at all? Should I always go with my first impulses? Am I never allowed to change my mind? Is making shit sexy or violent a ziptie where I can take clothes off (and limbs) but never put more on? If you accidentally offend some people and want to change something, is changing it to make them feel better somehow bad? How? Shouldn’t it be the content creator’s call?

By complaining about ‘censorship’ in a context like this, you are not taking a moral high ground or defending any sort of noble idea. You are being selfish and demanding and saying “but I want THAT thing over there instead”! Square-enix is not your government. They cannot infringe on your rights. They were not forced to make the changes they made. No ones freedom of expression is being infringed. Perhaps you can argue that somewhere in the company, someone is upset that they have to change away from the old outfits, but there are people on any game design team sad about TONS of changes. That, again, is not censorship. That’s making a project with a team of people.

So please, people, stop saying this type of shit. At best you come off at clueless and at worst, you seem selfish. If you really want to complain, there are a million better ways to go about it. I complain about design decisions in games all the time. It’s not hard.

Why Twitter’s new blocking policies will probably benefit the harassed

Twitter has changed it’s blocking policies in a simple way. When you used to block a user, you would block them from getting updates of your tweets. Now when you block them, you effectively just mute them. Many people take issue with this — often blocking stalkers, exs or just assholes who they don’t want seeing their updates to maintain privacy. The problem here is that your tweets are public information and the problem of blocking single users from public information is exceptionally difficult. Ask anyone who has tried to run a forum or an IRC channel and has had to block someone their. Crazy IP wildcard strings to ban ips and all that, only to have that STILL be thwarted. Under the old system, the only thing the blocked party had to do to view your information was to go to your account (which seems to be the thing most harassers do anyways… I mean, do you follow all those political figures you hate and tweet angrily at on occasion?). Even if that policy was changed, all they would have to do is log out, since, by default, all tweets are public. Blocking, as a denial of information to the blocked, was, at best, an inconvenience.

Also anyone who has ran a forum or IRC channel will tell you — the first thing someone who’s banned will do is try and evade their ban in any way possible. The same is true for twitter. This is where sockpuppets and troll accounts pop up like a hydra to endlessly harass you. Now your harasser isn’t just anonymous, they’re super-anonymous. You can’t even tell them apart. Also in my experience, the best way to block someone has always been a silent one. I’ve seen this on forums — you hide the persons posts from everyone but themselves and eventually they just get bored. That occasionally breaks down on forums due to how they work (at least SOMEONE has to respond to me!), but that seems like a policy that would work excellently over a service like twitter. This twitter policy change seems to be one that trades an aspect of blocking that fundamentally didn’t even work to begin with (the denial of information) for more obfuscation. A policy like this will hopefully keep down the creation of new harassment accounts and keep harassers in the dark and the only thing lost being the illusion of security and privacy.

This might not all work out and there might be ways the old policy actually worked that I wasn’t aware of, but I think this is at least a good explanation for the rational behind the change and how it was aimed to help victims of harassment.

What I would like to see would be ‘semi-private’ accounts. Accounts closed to those not logged in and without a twitter account. This at least makes the process of blocking way more definite and effective (.. even if they just have to add a new account to follow you, but other policy options could help, like the requirement for accounts to be over a user defined age or something). This could be less oppressively closed that a ‘private’ account while still providing a lot of the benefits.

edit: That was short lived. Twitter has rolled back the changes. While I preferred the new policy, I don’t feel the rollback puts things in a partially worse state. But I’m going to say this, because a lot of people don’t quite get this. The block system does not stop people from stalking you. It does not stop them from seeing your tweets, and is only a minor inconvenience. It does protect your personal information from getting into the hands of jerks.

So basically be safe.

Cool Women in Fighting Games who aren’t Sexualized!

Had a fun conversation on twitter involving the sexualization of women in fighting games and was rather surprised how many examples of non-sexualized women people coud come up with. It’s not a lot, but it’s still a list and it’s fun to talk about.

Also, this isn’t to say that I think non sexualized female characters are the best female characters. You’ve seen my shitty art, you know how I roll. I love me some boobs and some pretty women and all that. But I also like seeing variety. So the point of this post is to highlight some variety that some people might not know exists so we can appreciate it and maybe learn a little by their strengths and failures.

This in no way is a list to show there isn’t a problem (the difficulty of assembling this list would say otherwise). This is just to highlight some cool examples.

The list is also not complete. I tried to stick to answers that would be largely uncontroversial, but if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them. I might try and update the list, but try and make sure it’s a good example. I’m not going to put Ivy down in the bottom category because she’s ‘sexually empowered’ or something. That’s a different conversation for a different time.

Non-Human

The easiest way to have a non-sexualized woman in a game is to have her be non-human. This might seem like cheating, but almost invariably, when a character is non-human, it’s usually male (I’ve heard League of Legend players bitch about this quite a bit). So while these example are arguably easy ways out, their rarity tells a different story.

Justice

justiceGame: Guilty Gear

Justice is the final boss of the original Guilty Gear and a secret character throughout the life of the whole series. While Justice is humanoid, most tend to think of her as a big gundam dude with hair. The woman inside Justice is probably quite attractive if the implications of Overture’s plot are to be believed, but the Justice we see as players is a powerful, dreadful Gear with a TERRIFYING codpiece. It’s also quite possible that, while Justice was once human, that her human body was destroyed when she was converted into a gear. Being a powerful woman who commanded an army of Gears against all of humanity, Justice deserves some respect

Amaterasu

amaterasuGame: Okami and Marvel vs Capcom 3r

Amaterasu is not only a wolf, she’s also the Goddess of the Sun. Hard to get very sexual there. People also tend to know Ammie is a woman, which gives her some points over the other two characters on this part of the list.

Panda

panda

Game: Tekken

The tekken Panda is a girl. WHO KNEW?! Not much else to say on this one as Panda doesn’t really do or say anything

Minimally-Sexualized

These are characters who are very minimally sexualized. Almost all female characters get sexualized in some way, if only in passing. The exceptions in these character’s portrayal are often kind of interesting.

Leo

leoGame: Tekken

I’m not up on my Tekken so forgive me in advance. Leo is one of the cooler of a particular trope of non-seuxalized female characters. Leo is androgynous. Leo is androgynous as fuck, with no one knowing what she was for quite some time. Her style is a type of Kung fu that is both powerful and graceful and while rugged and masculine in appearance, as a guy she would definitely be seen as a pretty boy. She seems tough as nails and the only bit of sexualization she gets is swimsuit DLC in Tekken Tag Tournament 2, which puts the whole issue to rest.

Naoto

naotoGame: Persona 4, Persona 4 Arena

Naoto is an awesome and troubling character. Also androgynous, Naoto and her Persona 4 story spawned a bunch of controversy as to whether or not she should be considered transgendered and whether or not Atlas dropped the ball in making her trans issues be a ‘thing’ she lets go of. Personally, I’d say she’s not trans, but that Atlas dropped the ball (The character is what they say she is, for better or for worse), so I’m including her. There is some pretty good reasons to consider he male still (She refers to her self with male pronouns in the japanese version even after confronting her shadow), but that’s a discussion other people can have.

Still, taken as a female, Naoto is very much not sexualized. She is in Persona 4 to some extent — jokes made about the size of her wrapped up breasts and the school girl outfit during christmas… but not at all in P4A (it’d be easy to assume she was a guy if you were playing without prior knowledge), and in both cases is always treated as skilled and intelligent. While Naoto is problematic, she is still awesome and very interesting to talk about. Out of any character on this list, she probably has the most words written about her. If you’re curious, look it up. I can’t do her story justice.

King

kingGame: The Art of Fighting, The King of Fighters

The original androgynous fighting game character. King could only be identified as female by defeating her with a special attack in the Art of Fighting which would blow off her top and she her to be wearing a bra. A bit crude by current standards, it was an interesting detail at the time.

King fights with the world’s most badass martial art, Muay Thai. She dresses in fancy suits and drinks wine and kicks ass. Like Naoto, she presents herself as a man to receive male privilege while at the same time becoming somewhat gender neutral. King gets more feminine in appearance as the series goes on, kinda unfortunately so by XIII. Still, her cold demeanor hasn’t changed at least.

Makoto

makotoGame: Street Fighter 3: Third Strike

While masculine and androgynous, Makoto doesn’t get included with the above 3 a she has always been presented as a female. Instead, Makoto just doesn’t care about her femininity. She is one of the hardest hitting street fighter characters and is terrifying. Makoto is a pretty great example of a non-sexualized female character as little is done wrong in her presentation. There are no missteps or mixed messages, just a really rough, tomboyish karate practitioner. At worst, when you dizzy her you can see her bra and SF4 gives her a schoolgirl uniform, but those are minor points in the scheme of things.

Hilde

hildeGame: Soul Calibur 4

Hilde get’s a lot of love as a cool, armored female. While some of her costumes are more feminine, her primary outfits are always pretty badass. I don’t know about Hilde as a character, but one of the cool things about her is, unlike the above examples, she doesn’t discard her femininity. It just doesn’t get in the way of being a pragmatic fighter.

Peacock

peacockGame: Skullgirls

It’s strange that two great examples come from a game with so many panty shots. I could write a whole lot about how Skullgirls’ honest voice and art direction is the right way to do ‘sexy’ and do it sincerely, but that’s gotta wait for another day. What’s cool is that there is actually some good cast variety. Peacock is pretty much straight up entirely unsexualized in any way. Not even in a ‘loli’ way or something. She is a foul mouthed cartoon throwback who is amazing. It’s so awesome that she’s found in such a strange place

Painwheel

painwheelGame: Skullgirls

Painwheel might be arguably a little sexualized with her leg revealing outfit, but I don’t think she was created with any sort of titalation in mind. Painwheel is terrifying and upsetting. She’s embodied medical horror and experimentation.

Tsubaki

tsubakiGame: Blazblue

I stopped playing Blazblue long ago and I don’t even particularly like Tsubaki. In fact, I kinda hate her design. It seems so stupid and goofy and awkward. At the same time, that goofy, stupid awkwardness makes no attempts to be sexy or anything like that and it makes her stand out compared ot the rest of the Blazblue cast.

Oume & Otane Goketsuji

otaneGame: Power Instinct

OLD WOMEN. How awesome is that. Power Instinct is a weeeeiiird game. In fact, Oume was even the game’s last boss.

Sexualized but Awesome Characters and Runner-ups!

Random examples I wanna talk about and a few runner up game series that do better than expected on average but I don’t feel like I would have much to say about.

Baiken

baikenGame: Guilty Gear

Baiken is a weird example. She can be drawn pretty sexy. She has cleavage all over the place. She doesn’t care about her appearance much, but she’s still a hot mess. Atop all this, she is scarred, missing an eye and an amputee. Arguing about whether or not Baiken is sexualized or not is one of the reasons I wanted to write on the topic to begin with.

I think Baiken is sexualized in an almost perfect way. It isn’t thrown in your face. They don’t go out of their way to make her pose in sexy ways or show off her huge boobs all the time and they’re also making a maimed person attractive and strong. Baiken isn’t cool despite her sexualization — it’s something that plays off her other traits in an awesome way.

Vanessa Lewis

vanessalewisGame: Virtua Fighter

Also not a big VF fan, but I do know Vanessa Lewis was one of the first ‘muscle girls’ and an MMA fighter. Vanessa is sexy and shows a lot of skin, but also in a way that shows off her powerful body. Vanessa is also tastefully animated and has some badass attacks.

Runner Up: Melty Blood
No, seriously, for a “loli fighter” based on some eroge games, the characters are surprisingly very much no sexualized. It’s actually quite surprising.

Runner Up: Immaterial and Missing Power

This might be a bit of a cheat, but IaMP is a Touhou fighting game and whether or not lolis in bloomers is sexualizaiton is a whole big question. Still, they seem to be drawn respectably in both the original Touhou games and IaMP. Worth throwing that out there.