Multiplayer and Demon’s/Dark Souls subverting my hatred of Co-op

So I’ve been playing Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls thanks to Too Much Talking listener Trynant, who was kind enough to buy me both of the games as a surprise. Despite knowing I’d like these games, I skipped on them due to time commitments and I’m glad Trynant basically forced me to play them (how can I not play something someone bought me that I know I’d like? That’d be like the rudest thing ever!).

So I beat Demon’s Souls and it’s probably my second favorite game of this generation (Behind Bayonetta) and might get bumped to 3rd if Dark Souls continues it’s wonderful pace and I have a lot to eventually say about both, but right now I just want to talk about the multiplayer.

First off, I am notorious among my friends for hating co-op, ESPECIALLY in otherwise single player games. Single player co-op mostly involves people getting in my way, or making it so I can’t pause and get a drink or take a piss without forcing someone else to wait. I have to play considerately. In games, I am willing to die many many times in a row to do things ‘my way’ or ‘the hard way’ or something. As soon as I made it to 1-1 in Demon’s Souls, I must have died 10 or 20 times in a row, just because I wanted to learn the parry timing, which is something I couldn’t do if I was playing the game with another person early on. I don’t get the joy other people seem to get from ‘doing things with friends’. I’d rather talk to them about other stuff than tell them what alien to kills.

Even in team based multiplayer games, things can be rough. I can’t stand MOBAs due to the roll of team work. Lots of “Cog in the machine” gameplay. Low player counts mean I can cause multiple people to have a bad game, or conversely, allow a friend to really piss me off…. and it goes on forever. I personally enjoy games with public servers, where players come and go freely and things are more relaxed. I enjoyed TF2 quite a bit back in the day because even if my team sucked, I could still enjoy rocketing people. I like my multiplayer teamwork to be ‘optional-yet-encouraged’. I’m a rather self centered gamer, in that regard. I prefer 1v1s, where my success and failure are all my own and that I can experiment liberally or basically just do whatever I want.

I’m in the minority on this one for sure, but I generally don’t feel bad about it. I just don’t play co-op in games and that’s that.

But then I was playing Demon’s Souls. Now I played through most of Demon’s Souls while dead. I had White Tendency, so I did more damage while dead and all I lost for it was 25% life and a ring slot. Being alive was nice, but I really didn’t care and as such, experienced very little multi-player content. I also never felt the need to invade anyone. White character tendency was nice, being alive was overrated, and fucking with some poor guy just seemed unnecessarily. Once I did the Old Monk fight, I got to enjoy sPvP and started getting curious about the multiplayer. On a whim I put down my blue eye stone, and did some co-op. Then I kept doing it.

I found this weird. A lot of my complaints about co-op seemed to still be true, but it seems that Demon’s Souls did enough other stuff to win over a salty introvert like me.

You and the Host are not equal. One thing I enjoyed about the co-op was that I was helping something. I wasn’t doing something for me. I didn’t have to worry about beating the boss. Becoming alive again didn’t matter to much, it was just fun to try and help someone out. I was expendable. If I died, oh well. I wasn’t needed, but whatever I could do would be appreciated.

No communication.These aren’t my friends. This works on several levels. First, this makes the interaction transient. When you play games with a friend, you generally play through a lot of it together. You’re involved. It becomes an activity. You plan for it. In Demon’s Souls case, I decide “I want to play with some other people” and I spend up to 20 minutes playing with another person with no commitments. If we beat a level, that’s it. We probably won’t see each other again.

The game is legitimately hard and the advantages of co-op are something that is earned. Co-op doesn’t seem like “This thing you just do to get through the game”. One of the real advantages of being alive is being able to summon help and staying alive is hard. When you’re offering your self as a phantom, you’re helping someone do something legitimately hard. It feels more rewarding than any L4D campaign I’ve forced my self to play.

My only problem with the game was the invasion system. Mostly skilled players picking on less skilled ones. You could go do some mutual PVP stuff with Old Monk or by using a Red Eye Stone, but that’s it. Dark Souls unfortunately suffers from some network issues relating to it’s lack of a dedicated server, but the multiplayer concepts intrigue me in theory. I haven’t experienced any yet, but let me talk about why I think it helps.

Firstly, your typical invasion is somewhat limited and requires a special item that is used up when you use it, adding a higher cost to the invader than what existed in Demon’s Souls. Secondly, more varied and interesting interactions are added to replace this. You have the Blades of Darkmoon, whom invade players who have gotten into “The Book of Guilt”, a book that lists players who have either betrayed characters in game or have ‘illegally’ invaded other players worlds. This gives players a guilt free way to go invade another person’s world. There are other covenants that protect certain areas of a game. So if a player enters such an area, you could be summoned to defend it. Another one of my favorite ideas (though it doesn’t seem to work well in practice) is the gravelords, who put down sigels that make the games of 3 other players in the same area as you harder. IF they die, you get half the souls they drop, and if they find the sigel, they can counter invade you. Unfortunately the difficulty change is minor and the sigels are usually so well hidden that you’ll never find them. Hell, you’ll never know that you’d even want to find them. But the idea is great. A Passive aggressive situation that allows your average player a guilt free reason to go PVP. He’ll want to PVP because you’re an asshole. That’s amazing!

There’s also other covenants meant to aid in finding PvE partners and reducing the chance of invasion (Apparently, due to the game’s mesh style peer-to-peer setup, this is done by making you more likely to connect with friendly nodes or something, which I find interesting). Hell, there’s a covenant about mutual PVP where you fight to become more like a dragon and this is all seamlessly integrated with a single player game.

There is just something appealing about this setup for me, as it gets me to play co-op, when I usually wouldn’t, and makes me play a competitive game without all the effort I usually put into learning how to play a game competitively. It’s just there!

I Am an Old Man: The IGF Pirate Kart

As time goes on I feel like less and less of an “Indie” developer, at least on a community level. My work certainly fits into that niche, but the ‘Indie Community’ seems like an alien entity and the two of us don’t seem to share the same values. This is where the IGF Pirate Kart comes in.

Now I might have a lot of this wrong, but lemme do my best to explain the situation as I’ve come to understand it. So the Independent Gaming Festival” added a 95 dollar submission fee for entrees that many people felt was exclusionary and generally a waste unless you were some ‘known’ person. Now I could never care less about IGF (contests and awards and events just have never been my thing), but this seemed like a legit complaint coming from a lot of people who are generally struggling to do what they love. So the folks over at Glorious Trainwrecks(I think) had the idea to make a big game compilation to send as a single entry to the IGF. The Glorious Trainwrecks community has done these pirate karts for some time just for fun and this seemed as good a time as any. So they gave 2 days to submit games. To quote the website…

A Pirate Kart is a very very inclusive game compilation made in a hurry. Jeremy Penner came up with the idea for the first Pirate Kart as a way for the Glorious Trainwrecks community to collaborate on something for TIGSource’s “B-Game” competition. To galvanize the community, he set an absurd goal: make 100 games in 48 hours and package them as a single entry in the competition.

The IGF Pirate Kart continues the spirit of the Pirate Kart but with a new twist: instead of making brand new games for it, mostly people are entering the games that they are proud of, but not “big” or “polished” or “real” enough to be worth the entry fee.

Conceptually I don’t mind this. There are a lot of reasons to make games and there is no law saying you need to spend a million years polishing something to release it. Sometimes it’s good to just let loose and do whatever the heck you feel like. There is no reason for game making to be exclusionary. Also no reason for me to have to play it, but Twitter lit up with talk about how important and awesome the pirate kart is. I had to take a look.

Now, I only played about 20-40 out of the roughly 300 games. At best that’s 13% of the game. But I felt like I played enough. I felt extremely disappointed. I felt like I was, for the most part, playing Action 52. The good ideas I saw were nothing but good ideas — unpolished, raw ideas that were mostly too crude to properly enjoy for me. Sometimes they were just a single clever gag, or other times something utterly unplayable. Now, I have no beef with these games being bad exactly. They are what they are. They were made under extreme conditions for a particular purpose. The thing that gets me is the reaction. Before I say anything else, let me just say I don’t feel ‘right’ about anything I’m going to say. It is my own frustration and confusion that’s coming out here. I don’t want to rain on any parades. I don’t want to force people to see my opinions. I kept off the IGFPirateKart hashtag. But if anyone is checking my blog or twitter, they obviously want to know how I feel, and this is how I feel.

I feel like the indie community lauds mediocrity. I think they overvalue concept and undervalue execution. As I’ve always felt, ideas are cheap. Everyone has a million ideas and it’s nice that people can get them out… But it’s when a person takes an idea and polishes the heck out of it and makes something beautiful — that’s what gets my attention. I feel like an illustrator among abstract artists. While I concern my self with form and carefully constructed lines, the majority of the community is just having a stream of conciousness. They are embracing their flaws. Are they wrong? I can’t say that. Flaws add character. Even on those who aim to polish their work, everything comes out with flaws and those flaws are part of what defines a game. They just take it to a far greater degree than I can stomach. It’s not wrong, but to me it is alien. In a way it seems even more different than just being ‘more extreme’. It feels like something else and I can’t bring my self to enjoy any of it.

I released a very flawed and very buggy game. Sometime in the next year I will release another game. It will probably be less flawed and less buggy, but it will be far from perfect. But I try and will continue to try. I’m sure some of the people who contributed from the pirate kart will try too. We’re all people who love good games (though our definitions will differ). But it seems to me like less people will strive toward the unattainable when people heap endless praise on a day’s work. People spent less time on their game than I’ve spent -planning- in game menus! Now, that’s not wrong, but the response I would want to hear is “This is a great concept. Now take it and make it shine”. Some surely will do just that, but that doesn’t seem like the prevailing atittude. I don’t want to just see someone’s brain droppings, I want to see their best effort.

This is where I am left feeling like an old man. Now I know many of the more ‘artful’ indie folk and I can appreciate their opinions. Heck, my bro Zara, who’s rather mechanically minded is into this whole indie kart thing. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see peoples wacky ideas. That said, it’s lonely over here. Where everyone is thinking about art and expression, my mind is in mechanic, loving the dirty and the nitty-gritty of game design. During all these IGF related talks about wanting the community to be inclusionary and “represent everyone”, I feel my self more and more distanced from the whole thing… and I wish them the best. I don’t even necessarily want to be part of the community. I’m a pretty introverted guy. It just feels weird to technically be ‘a part’ of something that is so alien to me.

Oh well, this won’t stop me from doing anything, it just feels weird and I had to get all this out.

In Defense of Shepard #5

So Penny Arcade has brought this to my attention and I feel compelled to comment. Issues like this have been coming up a lot lately. I think this individual article is absolutely awful and I am actually a bit offended over it. A bit — Kim Richards was doing some ridiculous riffing and obviously having a bit of fun in her insulting description of Shepard #5, but the sheer concept of what she is saying still bothers me. Despite HATING the article, I can’t have any real ill thoughts toward Richards — her stakes in feminist arguments are much greater than mine. On the other hand, I feel the need to disagree publicly.

Shepard #5 is pissed off and has really nice contrast. I personally think she's the best -designed- Shepard.

… Slut Shaming? A little bit.

One of the issues I take with this article is the idea of “slut shaming”. A feminist idea is that it is harmful for a woman to be shamed or insulted for being sexual. Being sexual, if one chooses to be, is natural and women should be able to express themselves sexually. So Richards says…

“So it breaks my heart that the mass public have gone for such the wishy washy, Barbie faced personality vacuum that is Shep 5.”

“Commander Shepard deserves better than this. You’re talking about a woman who brought down a teched-up Saren. A woman who survived being brought back to life after being blown out into space. The woman who punched that damn annoying reporter right between her lying eyes. Just look at Shep 5, then back to these words. Now look at Shep 5 again – that is the face of a woman who cares more about her glue-on nails and handbag Chihuahua. She’s not the saviour of the goddamn universe.”

Lets look at all the potential Shepard models. They all have roughly the same face, just a difference in complexion and hair. Are you saying a blonde woman is not capable of doing things things? Are saying that just because she has hair that she can’t be a badass? That seems counter productive. You know what every potential Shepard as in common? Look at that expression. That is an expression that looks dangerous. Any one of the female Shepards look like they can kick my ass. Is her past history and obvious resolve totally destroyed because she decides to wear here hair long? Default Shepard in the original two mass effects had similarly long hair, though black and neatly kept. Is that okay just because her look is more reserved looking?

Mai waifu~

I call bullcrap on that. Sherpard #5 is my second favorite design. I like most of them in fact (well, actually I don’t like Shepard #4 but whatever. Emo chicks could kick ass too). The short haired military look is definitely more appropriate. I like Shepard #5 for the opposite reason of Richards. There aren’t actually a lot of blonde female central protagonists (Samus? Fighting games have a bunch, but everything else seems to have black or red hair). I don’t even personally like blondes very much. But I look at Shepard #5 and I can feel how she swings.

She swings Renegade.

I liked the Penny Arcade comic for that reason. #5 is acting like a Renegade. I mean, why else would she have hair like that in the military? She clearly doesn’t give a fuck. I also like Shepard #2 (my third favorite). She’s more pragmatic, but the pale skin (like #5) gives those eyes added intensity. Still, I think it’s terrible to imply that a woman can’t have a head of hair and be dangerous. Remember, these characters are all the same, have the same backstory, same armor, same weapons and are only different by their complexion and choice of hair style. So I think Richards implying that her chosen hair style invalidates everything about her is ridiculous and unfair.

Personally though my favorite is #6. Impractical? Very, but you know what, I adore blunt bangs and nothing will ever change my mind. If I was a girl, that’s how I’d cut my hair. In a strange gender squishy way I thusly identify with #6 more. Which leads to the next point!

Well this Shouldn’t be a Beauty Contest! …. Right?

The second tier of arguments don’t center on whether or not a sexy Shepard could kick ass (she most certainly could! If you disagree you are objectively wrong!), but on the whole process Okay so Female Shepard is blonde? Fine, but was the voting process fair? Isn’t it wrong for the default appearance of the female character to be chosen by horny dudes who will make their decisions based on sex appeal? Isn’t that degrading and objectifying?

Well, if the winner was the most buxom and slutty, I’d agree, but considering we’re talking about a head here, I don’t. Even then it wouldn’t be the fault of the voters — it’d be the fault of Bioware for making an option with bigger breasts or sexier armor. You see, there are about 4 reasons a regular player will make a character. Creative folk are less clear cut then this, never mind that. For the majority, there is about 4 ways to do this.

You make someone who you wish you come be (Male Shep), you make someone you would want to sleep with (Fem Shep), you make someone who looks cool (IMMA ROBOT) and you make someone who looks hilarious (I HAVE DOWN SYNDROME).

It is perfectly natural for people to select the sexiest Shepard. We’re men. We’re attracted to women. We want to sleep with them and that’s fine. It is especially fine in the case of Shepard. Shepard’s characterization does not change with her appearance. Due to the androgynous nature of her role, she is still a total badass. The problem with attractive females in games generally has nothing to do with them being attractive, it has with them being vapid. Whats the most offensive example of a female role in a game in the last few years that someone can think of? I’ll give you mine. Samus. She’s in armor most of the time, besides being too tight,m her outfit isn’t insanely revealing and she’s not horribly sexualized. The issue was that her role, writing and characterization was AWFUL. As I’ve mentioned, I know manly women who like Bayonetta, who very much has her characterization based on her sexuality. It can go either way. Sexualized designed are fine as long as they come with proper characterization. In Mass Effect it could be a bit more of an issue — the universe is ‘real’ enough that people will complain about #5’s impractical-in-combat haircut. If she was sexified more it would feel horribly out of place (Midriff revealing armor!). In other games, where disbelief is suspended even more, you have more leeway on these things.

Another argument that bothers me is people saying that if people were voting a Male Shepard, the criteria would be different. I think this is a bad comparison — again, the majority of men wish to sleep with women… But even then, they likely would vote for the one that they’d want to be the most — in a way, still a “Beauty contest”. On the other hand, if, in a female dominated media, you had women voting for a male character, you’d probably STILL see the hottest character win. Women do tend to separate their sex drive from their decisions more, but not so much. I know plenty of women who constantly fawn over various male anime characters. I asked one of my lady friends a question earlier and our conversation went like this…


Yes, I talk to my friends in all caps, wanna fight about it? Another friend would, on the other hand, probably try and make him look like a Robot. But whatever. Either way, we make things we like to look at, whether it is sexual, wish fulfillment or comedy and there is nothing wrong with that. Acting like men should have voted for the most practical looking female Shepard is asking something unrealistic. The important question is whether that’s all Shepard #5 is? A Cute blonde mop of hair? I think not. I think she’ll be punching more reporters and kicking more ass, all without the aid of a belly shirt and mini skirt.

There is a reason why your ideas sound awful

The difference between a person who creates and a person who doesn’t create ultimately has always come down to bravery. Bravery has very little to do with skill, as there are plenty of hack artists out there (me) who are still brave enough to expose their thoughts to the world. It’s takes a little foolishness and/or faith to go “my idea can be something that isn’t terrible”. When it comes to creating things like characters, settings, stories or symbolism, the biggest hangup people seem to have (even people who are already makers) is that their ideas sound stupid in their head. Heck they might sound stupid to other people too, due to a lack of articulation. They wish their ideas were better or cooler or well thought out or less cheesy and cliche….

The thing is, while there are some brilliant ideas out there, most ideas, when distilled down, sound really dumb. These things do not succeed due to a brilliant core idea, but because of execution and internal cohesion. I like to think of this as the “Worst Possible Pitch”. I’ll try and put some together as examples.

Guts (Berserk)
The main character of this show will be plain looking big dude with a big sword who doesn’t talk much but is really good at killing things and gets angry a lot.

Granted if you go post-eclipse, a dude with a cannon arm and auto crossbow and even bigger sword might sound a bit cooler, but on t’s own it’s pretty awful sounding and shallow. Yet Guts is a deep character and he’s deep because of the little touches and how he is executed. Also in the context of his world, his relatively plain design stands out. In other series where a characters can have stylistic injuries and scars, very mark on cuts is from something we’ve seen and they communicate his struggle. His big sword works because he’s not in a crazy anime universe where such things are normal — it’s because the setting is so ‘realistic’ that it works so well.

Cave Story
A bunch of bunny people in a floating island are subjugated by a doctor with a silly hat who wishes to turn them into world conquering weapons. You, a robot in a baseball cap, need to defeat the doctor and the evil wizard in the core of the island while saving your robot girlfriend.

If that sounds good to you, it’s because you know how it turns out. The idea sounds childish and it IS, but that informs both the aesthetic and how the story is delivered. It is cute and sincere while still having a sense of danger. The idea works because it is executed so well. Cave story gets the ‘disney effect’ where it can tell a serious heartfelt story despite being a kids movie. Unlike half of the movies the poor guys at Dreamworks have to make.

A guy (with no relation to anyone in Bram Stoker’s novel) with a whip goes into Dracula’s castle to fight monsters and various movie monsters once every 100 years.

It’s kinda absurd how Castlevania as successfully took all sorts of horror stories and condensed them into a cohesive aesthetic. These games have Frankenstein’s Monster in them for goodness sake, along with mummies. If you look at the film reel intros for the NES Castlevanias, you can really think about what they did. We don’t think about that now. Why is a mummy or frankenstein in Castlevania? Well because they’re supposed to be! It’s the most natural thing in the world! These games also turned Dracula into a new character and made his castle it’s self a fascinating piece of lore. The Belmonts and the Vampire Hunter have had enough games to create an air of respect around them.

Street Fighter
A bunch of martial artist guys who look like martial artists fight.

Now, Street Fighter gets to do a lot of things because it was there first, but theres more then that. It also isn’t rocket science, nor does it have a great plot. Still, Street Fighter creates a setting around ‘fighters’ and takes it quite seriously, even with crazy characters like Blanka and Dhalsim. You get a sense of effort and strength from the characters. They give the impression that their strenght was worked for (as opposed to SNK Where you get some stylish dudes doing stylish moves, which is okay too). By keeping relatively down to earth, weird things like Blanka stand out and become noteworthy and the whole thing carries a bit plausibility than a lot of fighters.

Forgetting actual pitches, just look at anything Blizzard does. It’s about as dead simple and almost cliche as you can get, BUT THEY DO IT WELL. The question you should always ask you self is not “Is my idea bad?”. You should ask your self “Can I make my idea work?”. Ideas are cheap. This is why all the people who go “I wish I could get paid for having so many great ideas!” don’t get paid — because the ideas don’t matter too much. My friend reads a manga called Toriko — this is a line right off of wikipedia…

“In a world where the taste and texture of food is extremely important, there exist individuals known as Gourmet Hunters who specialize in the acquisition of rare ingredients and animals. Toriko is one of these hunters and it is his dream to find the most precious foods in the world and create the ultimate dinner course. As one of the most skilled hunters in the world, he is regularly hired by restaurants and the rich to seek out new ingredients and rare animals. “

I think a lot of us will have the same impression of that description. It either has to be totally fucking stupid and bad, or really awesome. A sincere author doing what he wants to do can make seemingly ridiculous ideas into gold. Or make a seemingly simple idea into a compelling, sophisticated one. It is all about execution. This isn’t to say you can’t have bad ideas or that you will execute your ideas well, but I hope those who are hung up on ‘having a good idea’ can read this and press forward a little more.

Gaming Globes

I always had a curiosity with maps and map making. One thing that came to my awareness is that your typical RPG map makes little sense when you consider a round world. Beyond the fact that they map behaves like toruses (you go go down the bottom and appear uptop and traveling in a diagonal straight line odes not return you to the starting location. I mean the land masses just don’t seem quite natural for a globe. I played around with this idea in Blender but the gifs I made of the planets just did not do the idea justice. So I made it in unity instead.

Click the above image to check out Game Globes, featuring Final Fantasy 1, 2, 4, 5 , 6 (twice), and Dragon Quest 3, Seiken Densetsu 2-3 and Terranigma.

Load time is pretty huge (25 megs) but it’s pretty cool if you’re interested. The maps were often stretched to try and make them less troubling, scale wise, but the large oceans remain. Only a tad worse than the South Pacific though, to be honest. Also if you’re interesting in a local executable, here’s one for windows. Be warned, it’s 40 megs.

David Cage is generally full of Shit

Now, I’ll be honest, there’s really not a damned thing I like about David Cage. I’ve always gotten the impression that he’d prefer to be a Hollywood writer but can’t be, because he sucks at writing stories. He has ideas that can be powerful, but seems unable to put together a story properly or intelligibly. He can’t write kid characters and comes up with wacky nonsense like super zombies. I would frequently joke that Heavy Rain would have been better written if David Cage was fatally hit by a bus before the script was finished and what was there was handed to someone else entirely. Not that I want David Cage to have been hit by a bus — a better game isn’t worth human sacrifice — but it could quite possibly be true.

But that doesn’t matter. I’m not a professional game designer, nor some superior writer (especially not where spelling and grammar are concerned, OH BOY). Nor am I the fairest judge. I wouldn’t like these types of games even if they were great — I am too gameplay focused. I also don’t think David Cage SHOULDN’T do what he does. He gets to experiment and the people who want it can get a rather novel experience. He isn’t changing the industry, so whatever. Only I was just reading some quotes off twitter that were made by him at his GDC talk. I want to address them, because I think they are objectively bullshit.

So here we go, in no real order.

“We need to forget about video game rules — bosses, missions, game over, etc…are very old words of a very old language.” “Everything you can do with (old game) words has already been said. We need to create a new language to create new things.”

You might as well be saying…

“We need to forget about storytelling rules — antagonists, pacing, conflict, etc…are very old words of a very old language.”

Now let’s be clear here, there are good novels without antagonists, pacing or even conflict. But none of these things represent an improvement to writing. They are interesting, unique gems, but they are not ‘casting aside the old rules for new, modern concepts.’ The things Cage list are ways in which game designers have found to convey pacing or divide stories or introduce drama. We have also found NEW ways to do the same thing, without discarding the old. We do not discard the fundamental language of a form of media when it grows to a certain age, we refine and improve it. 2d platformers (a genre that we still haven’t figured out entirely, nor said all there is to say about) now ascribe to newer, more modern rules than those who came before them. Bosses are just a way to project a peak in pacing. Segments like these can be conveyed many different ways. Big set pieces like nuclear explosions, or chase sequences or holding a base — all these things and more can do this, even cutting off some of your fingers. Is cutting off some fingers intrinsically better? Well, it’s shitty game play, but it does, even to the jaded gamer, have a bit of emotional weight to it, which is nice. Presentation wise, it’s also novel, even though mechanically it’s as old and dated as anything else. It’s good to add new words to the language of design.

“Why do you want to create a game where you just shoot everything? Let’s do something more meaningful.”

The terms used in the previous quote is the language of conflict and fighting. Is that because the industry is unoriginal? No. Not to say the industry isn’t unoriginal, but it has nothing to do with it’s reliance on conflict. Games are naturally about conflict. You win or you lose. Things pose danger and reward to you, giving your actions meaning and contrast. You can portray this in different ways. Abstractly, like Tetris, is an option. Or you can be like Monopoly which is non-violent conflict. Or you can embrace honest to god ‘shoot some dudes’ violence. These things are just framing devices for what are meaningful in game actions. When Cage says meaningful, he means, “artistically meaningful”, but that is not the only, or even ‘best’ way to be meaningful (there is no ‘best’).

Exploration gives us meaningful emotions. So does victory and conquest. Completing something difficult gives us a feeling of accomplishment. Actiony games have no fundamental issue with inspiring feelings of excitement and awe, tension and fear. These are meaningful emotions and are difficult to convey through other forms of media. Emotions related to moral ambiguity, or psychological horror, or even self-mutilation are often better conveyed in linear media. Whats worse, popping our own pimple or having someone else do it? Control gives comfort, while moral dilemmas and horror often work best when we lack control — when we feel helpless. A character can make a poor decision due to strong emotions, but we are not likely to do the same thing, because we are not real people… This leads into the next quote.

“If you only have one choice in a scene, it’s linear and boring. If you have lots of choices, you make…players the co-writer.”

This quote strikes me as exceptionally foolish. First, it assumes the player is just as qualified to write the story as the designer is. In Cage’s case, this may often be true, but not usually. Now, that’s not saying you can’t have co-authorship of the narrative — Bioware handles this quite nicely, but it doesn’t displace the need for cohesive narratives. Books and movies survive quite well in their linearity and control because it allows them a way to best execute a desired scene or story for maximum effect.

… But secondly, and this might be the most important part, it assumes that players, since even before days of Mario, have not taken co-authorship of the game world. Due to the nature of games (especially the actiony or cartoony games Cage seems to hate the most), we are constantly enforcing our will upon the world. I can play Super Metroid and at this point, practically do whatever I want and beat the game any which way is pleasing to me. Not having the high jump boots has more influence than missing a few finger joints, as far as each respective game is concerned. I am making REAL decisions with REAL consequences, not decisions that only influence the narrative. A 1up falling toward a pit in Mario is a case of real valuation, with real risk and real reward. These decisions influence the core of the game, not the presentation and trimmings of the game. Without art and narrative, Heavy Rain would be left as nothing but a boring, empty husk, but without art or a narrative, Pac-man, Mario, Super Metroid, Street Fighter, or even a game like Devil May Cry would still retain a large portion of their fun. Some of these games would lose something of significance, but still have enough pure force of game design to survive. In fact, as we replay many of these games over and over again, we strip the game of its art and narrative and stare into its core and use the mechanics we see to enforce our will upon the game world.

When talking about games, what is more important, the narrative that can be done anywhere, or the game design that can only be done in games? Clearly you can (and often should, but not always!) do both and, optimally, merge both types of decisions together. There’s a lot you can do in both design spaces and presentation can be a significant part of a game.

“We tried to move the challenge from the controller to the mind of the player.”

David Cage does not understand videogames. Strategic and tactical decisions have always existed in the mind. Many games do make use of input difficulty as a type of game play (such as my pet-genre, fighting games), but even there, decision making rests in the players head. What Cage wants to do is focus on the least mechanically interesting decisions, thinking that ‘narrative’ and ‘moral decisions’ are where games are at. David Cage seemed obsessed with the shallowest part of gaming — the part most like every other form of media. Now, we need to learn how to do that stuff and do it well, but to put the superficial on a pedestal while cursing the core of gaming is foolish. Whats worse, it’s hypocritical, as Heavy Rain relies so heavily on Quick Time Events, the purest definition of ‘challenge from the controller’.

David Cage seems to love movies more than he loves games and wants games to be more like movies. Interactive movies. Choose your own adventure stories. Things that have been tried since the CD-Rom drive came to computers with FMVs. We see, over the many attempts (Peter Molyneux’s entire career) that moral choice and decision making are not as effective as we wish them to be. Developers like Bioware are showing that it’s possible to tastefully pull off these concepts, but the narrative has still failed to supplant gameplay, the core of the gaming experience, and the games that do things the best, seem to be like Shadow of the Colossus, games where the actual gameplay meshes with the themes and concepts of the narrative. Basically, don’t listen to David Cage; Gaming Hollywood is overrated.

Nidhogg Initial Impressions

I managed to get my hand on Nidhogg (no, you can’t have it), and have sat down with it a few times with a number of friends. As I’ve said many times on this blog, I am a rather competitive gamer. Not the most competitive, or the most skilled, but familiar enough with the process of breaking games down to know where to start. With that in mind, I set out to push the limits of the game and see if it would break. So far, it has not (which I am glad) but many things have been discovered. I’m not sure how much of Messhof’s design was intentional and how much of it is sheerly emergent, but the game is somewhat interesting despite its simple systems.

The Basics

Nidhogg is currently an unreleased 1v1 combat game styled after Prince of Persia and Karateka and with a mix of atari and psychedelic graphics. That should all be apparent from the trailer. The goal of the game is to push along a mirrored castle to get to the ‘win screen’. The win screen being a crowd who cheers for you as you are eaten by the dragon, Nidhogg. The castle contains 3 unique rooms (with the mirroring, that equals 5 screens), each with its own features. For the most part, the maps are flat, containing mirror instances of a hump, 3 holes and a few low ceilings which impede jumping. I’d be interested in a few slopes, but for the most part, the whole arena feels fine. I think I would enjoy a few more arena choices, but for an unreleased game, this is enough. The last player to make a kill has moving priority (the defender can’t change screens) and after a set period of time, the defender respawns after dying.

The game it’s self uses two buttons, Attack and Jump. Jump behaves as you’d expect. The state its self is pretty vulnerable, but you do at least have perfect air control when you’re up there. The only action you have access to in the air is a sword throw, which I will speak about shortly. Attack causes you to do a lunging strike, that extends your sword out and moves you forward a few pixels. Swords are always capable of killing, but the lunge allows you to actually reach your opponent without getting yourself killed. Any non-sword part of the player is a valid space for collision (There is no square ‘hit box’ or anything as you’d see in a fighter). There are 3 stances, which all function identically in theory. In fact, they are less ‘stances’ and more sword positions — high, medium and low – which are used to get your sword out of the way of your opponent’s sword so you can actually stab them. If you attack when both swords are on the same position, they merely bounce back. Due to the collision method, the low position has more ‘range’ than the top position. As far as I can tell, all attacks are the same, but the enemy’s sprite and animation alway has a leg farther out than any other position. Broadly speaking, the lower your stance, the more range. Stances are controlled by up and down. If you shift your sword into the way of an oncoming attack, you can disarm your opponent. If you don’t come down upon enough of his sword, you’ll only bounce. If you’re close enough, parry often results in an automatic kill (though most parries result in a kill anyways). Moving is done with left and right. Tapping gives little fencer-ish steps forward and back, while holding it results in a run. Pressing down in a run results in a slide that can go under the opponent, assuming his stance isn’t set to low. If you press attack while running (or jumping!) you do a sword throw. A sword throw is exactly what it sounds like and will often catch a player doing something other than defending for a kill. Mid stance blocks all throw attempts on equal height, but sometimes others are more reliable depending on elevation. Throws are risky, as being unarmed sucks and an attentive player can almost always block a sword throw from a distance. Unarmed combat is goofy and almost impossible to pull off effectively unless you’re both unarmed. As far as I can tell, unarmed combat is mostly mashing. Theres probably tricks, but since death is almst assured in sword vs unarmed combat, I haven’t been able to find out. Anyways…

The Fun Stuff

So that’s the basics, most of which could be inferred from the trailer. Of course, we found some fun stuff as we played.

Stance ‘tiers’

Low is pretty much the best stance, outside the fact that mid stance is better at switching to the appropriate guard faster. High stance is the worst. Now, the difference isn’t an ocean wide or anything, but it’s enough to build tendencies. Favoring low stance leaves you open to a stab to the face from a high attack. Vs low, you can defend and look for parries from mid and when you feel brave, press up and attack. He won’t be able to reflect (unless he’s lucky)and you can get a kill in. This is important because of…

Fuzzy Guard

I’m taking this term from the Fighting Game community. Fuzzy guard is switching rapidly between high and low block. This is used often during mixup in an attempt to ‘even out’ your odds of blocking. In Nidhogg, switching between two stances rapidly basically protects you from two points of attack. Most of the time you’d be fuzzy guarding against mid and low, for obvious reasons, but not always. It’s initially hard to deal with, but a timed poke to the eye usually fixes it. As such, it has become a good little technique to use in short bursts to try and get the opponent into a higher stance or catch a random disarm. A little of this combined with good reactions is a defensive cornerstone currently. It is still often more beneficial to be carefully choose when to switch though, especially against an opponent who has habits you understand.

Jump Canceling

Another fighting game loan word I’m using. Jump canceling is canceling an attack into a jump. Fighting games use this for combos, in Nidhogg this oversight (or so I predict it is)can be used to make attacks safer. Counter attacking is quite strong in the game, so whiffed lunges can be deadly. But if you jump backward after you fully extend, you can dodge any counter attacks and due to full air control, can often turn back around in mid air, land, and kill him. It can also be used for fakeouts, jumping before the attack even comes out. I’ve experimented with throwing my sword while coming down, but no luck yet.

You can be disarmed still while using this technique, but it gives you another chance to retrieve a weapon. There are a lot of possibilities with this ‘feature’ that I’ll be trying to look into.

Throw and Pit ‘Spawn Camping’

After killing your opponent, a well timed throw along with controlled forward momentum can cause the opponent to spawn with the thrown sword inside him for an instant kill. So far no one can do it consistently, but I’m pretty sure it CAN be done consistently. Currently people only try when they have a spare sword near by, but in theory, you wouldn’t even need that. You could throw, collect your old sword and fight the next enemy (and if you had that extra sword, you could instead do this TWICE). A similar oversight allows you to stop with the edge of the screen over a pit, so the spawning player falls to his death. These oversights sound powerful, but there are a few conceits.

First, the nature of the game makes it favor the player who is triying to push an opponent back to the neutral screen. On offense, enemies tend to spawn in more reliable, safer spots, but when running it back, more chances arise to exploit these behaviors. Also your gain is limited to a single screen. You are insured a safe spawn at the beginning of any screen.

Suicide Reset

Similar to the above, if you’re trying to get back to the neutral screen and you kill your opponent, suiciding into a pit will take you there. When both players die, combat resumes in the center of the map. With a prominent pit at the last screen, the defending player has a big comeback chance before losing.

Slide Kill

Most of the time people use the slide to get past the opponent so they can run to the next screen, or to get a weapon while unarmed. But if you press attack while crossing your opponent, you perform the sword throw, instantly killing you. Due to the fact low block kills slides, this is of limited use, but it is still a useful little trick to throw out occasionally. A lot of people probably have done this on accident at the various events where people have gotten to play Nidhogg, but this is how it actually works, for the record.

Jump related nonsense

I’ll just bundle the last few bits here. A Low to the ground sword throw (has to be while falling as far as I can tell) seem to need to be blocked high to be blocked 100% of the time. You can also jump off your opponents head, though you have to be incredibly precise.It’s also possible to jump INSIDE the opponent without getting killed. This is most useful if your unarmed, as its one of the two ways I’ve seen to hit the opponent (the other is hit them while they’re jumping). Your hits will disarm him and you’ll have a chance to survive. Chances are you’re dead though, so whatever.

As a final little fun bit, throw your swords away and start jumping on each others heads. If you jump at the right times, you’ll get stuck together and go flying off the top of the screen. Great times!


So far the game has been a blast. Cracks are beginning to show, but I don’t think anything mentioned above is enough to break the game. As I play more with my friend,s I’ll give more impressions and tricks and perhaps go into more subtler things, like specific terrain tricks and the psychology of the game). Messhoff made a cool little piece of work here and I have to wonder how much of it just happened and what he is and isn’t aware of. I have no opinions one way or another, but I am curious.

Review: Super Meat Boy

If it wasn’t for Bayonetta at the beginning of the year, Super Meat Boy would be my “Game of the Year”. Perhaps I can just slide Bayonetta back into GOTY for 2009. Whatever, such distinctions are silly anyways. Super Meat Boy is a wonderful 16-bit style platformer made by Team Meat, featuring the beautifully bearded Edmund McMillen and the wonderfully bald Tommy Refenes. Together they produced what has to be 2010s best independent game (or in my case, best game of the year, period). Sure you got Minecraft, but it’s barely a ‘game’ (Best …computer…thing? of 2010 would be the appropriate award?) and Limbo is cute and artsy but just doesn’t have a ton of real gameplay like Meatboy does.

The Gameplay (And why it’s so good)

The game follows the Story of Meat Boy. A boy. Who is made of meat. His girlfriend, Bandage Girl is kidnapped by a fetus who lives in a glass tank that wears a monocle and a suit. Dr. Fetus kidnaps Bandage girl because he hates you, hates Meat Boy, and if the developer’s twitter is to be believed, is a heavily closeted homosexual (Not being open with your self can lead to a lot of emotional and behavioral issues! D: ). The premise of each stage is simple. Use Meat Boy to get to Bandage Girl (Whom is then swooped away by Dr. Fetus) to advance to the next level. Levels tend to be short, almost always being less than a minute to complete on a successful run. The game is separated into 5 primary worlds, each containing 20 of these levels (each with an alternative hard mode), 4 warp zones (Each with 3 8-bit style levels and one unlocking a secret character) and a boss fight. There is also an end chapter with 5 super long stage and a Boss level, an alternative Chapter with Bandage Girl (only lacking warpzones and a boss fight). I believe the total for all of the content stands at 316 levels.

Meat Boy himself is an extrapolation of the “Mario Ideal”. Mario is slippery, he is fast and he’s somewhat hard to control. He never feels to ‘cheat’ you with his controls. He feels like a nuanced tool you come to understand the nuances of.

Meat Boy is faster. Meat Boy is more slippery. Meat boy can wall slide and wall jump. Meat boy can jump absurd distances. Meat boy is difficult to master, but is always reliable.

The game has two buttons. Run and jump. When running, Meat Boy makes Sonic look like a sissy. He hauls ass at a speed that starts off as intimidating. He can easily clear half a screen length with a running jump. Meat Boy is also an expert wall jumper. When slammed up against a wall, he falls at a reduced speed and can rocket off the wall at a speed that exceeds his normal run speed and jump distance. He can also do short wall hops up only one wall. Meat Boy is fast and mobile and has to be. Super Meat Boy’s stages are often consumed with dangers. The minute-or-less levels get you a lot of mileage, as mastery of them can sometimes take hours for weaker players. The level design, while not entirely immaculate, still strikes with stunning consistency. It also plays to Meat Boy’s inherent difficulty to control. Stages do not have to be cramped with danger, like stages in I Wanna Be The Guy, where the Kid moves with precise and exact pixel precision. This allows for more nuanced challenges, relying on intuition on how Meat Boy moves. The levels are made to Meat Boy. When playing, I always strove to see what the developer saw when making it. An optimal path of play in which the stage intends for you to find and sometimes even surpass. Timings and tricks in the stage seem to fall in place as the elements and sizes of things seem exactly chosen to create fluid gameplay. There are no goofy jumps or weird distances or timing. In fact, a lot of times you can trust things to work out when trying to play at the highest possible speed. This makes competition for time extremely fun. You can compete on the leader board, or just try and score a low enough time to score a “A+” on a stage.

The Dark World versions of levels take stages you thought were hard already and makes them even harder. Yet somehow it does it in a way that doesn’t feel unfair. They tend to be visually more intimidating, but only require a little more precision and a few more jumps. They say “If you could do this before, there is no reason you can’t do this now. You just have to push your self further.” Many stages also have ‘Bandages’ on them, a single item that you can collect that is often cleverly hidden. They’re only really used for unlocking characters, but they are rewarding to find. Sadly the game doesn’t tell you what levels they’re on, but you can rely on the internet for that if it bothers you (it bothered me).

Super Meat Boy’s Bag of Tricks

Super Meat Boy’s primary hazard is the ‘immobile thing that kills you”. Generally circular saw blades, but other time lava, medical waste, blood and….. salt (Fridge horror!). Saw blades can also move up and down or spin with around a center axis. These movements are consistent. Nothing you do ever causes saws to start or stop moving. There are also saw blade launchers, which periodically shoot sawblades (about one character size) in a straight line. Most things seem to be timed together. Generally if a stage has moving saw blades and shooting saw blades, the shot will fire when the moving saw blade is in the same position. No temporal desynchronization of hazards. When it does happen, it is minor and generally not a big deal and is done for some particular reason. This makes it a breeze to learn how to deal with each jump and hazard on a stage. The scenario won’t be glaringly different just because you got there a minute later.

Areas of interaction include buttons and keys. Buttons cause a chain reaction of blocks to disappear. A target block disappears and then all adjacent blocks next to it that are disppearing blocks also disappear, causing a chain reaction. After a set time, the blocks restore themselves. This can be used to open passageways, or used to create collapsing bridges or other obstacles. Sometimes these switches are automated, creating Mega Man style disappearing platform segments. Keys do he same, only they destroy the blocks in question forever. There are also your classic style ‘crumbling block’.

There are some enemies too, of varying quality. Blobs that bounce around at 45 degree angles (and thankfully tend to behave very consistently, timing wise). There are also wall crawlers and homing enemies (Both flying and on the ground). The homing enemies are one of the few things that bug me. These, and the homing rocket launchers (one of which shoots monster things that explode with 8 way bullets) are elements that seem a bit too ‘random’ for fair play. You can come up with techniques to product consistent results against them, but it is unintuitive. The homing of the rockets is also too strong. Sometimes when a rocket misses you, if the angle is perfect, it can loop back around and 180 at you. This seem massively unfair and arbitrary when it happens. Still, with good technique you can remove the minor ‘luck’ element. It’s not a big deal, but it seems out of place in a game that seems to be about performance and consistency.

There are a ton of other minor elements. There are fans and ‘gravity orbs’ that are annoying in the same way homing rockets are. There’s conveyor belts, which when laid vertically can launch you to obscene heights. Theres bouncing balls and portals that teleport you while maintaining your momentum. Oh also lasers that cycle on and off. You GOTTA have those.There is enough stuff to keep engaged and give each stage it’s own feel.

Artistry and Music

McMillien made some lovely tile sets for this game. They come off as very 16-bit, but contain enough depth, color and detail to maintain the feel of a modern game. Stages are often tinted with various colors to set certain moods and create unique visual effects without going overboard. The background elements neatly break up the rigorously square design the game ascribes to for consistency sake. The tilesets tend to have the feel of urban decay, but also include stuff like forests and hell. The last Chapter, “The End” contains art work and style that, when combined with the soundtrack leads to something legitimately epic. McMillien understands basic things such as the use of color and composition to make very visually effective and stylish stages. Danny Baranowsky soundtrack pops with a retro charm without relying on retro effects and sounds. The game also has some flash made cutscenes, many being throw backs to old video games. They tend to be brief and funny. Each stage as an intro cut scene, a boss cut scene and an ending cut scene, as well as a cutscene for each World’s unlockable character. Again, none are too long and almost all of them are funny in some way, just enough to frame an exceedingly simple but cute narrative with no dialog.

Loose bits and Final Thoughts

The characters in the game are fun, each coming with unique abilities. Some examples: Captain Video can hover but is way slower than Meat Boy Runman is super fast(he walks slightly slower than Meat Boy Runs, and his run button is a temporary boost button), but can’t walk slowly or jump as high as meatboy. Jill can mash jump to glide and The Kid can of course Double Jump. Some characters seem designed to make levels easier to complete (Like Captain Video or Jill), while others can be used to get bandages or exploit shortcuts (all the multijumpers like The Kid, Osmo and Flywrench) and some can be used just to optimize play time (Mostly either Run Man or The Kid). Captain Viridian can even flip gravity. But the all have a handicap (outside of usually being slower or have worse jump height/distance than Meat Boy) — the levels were not designed for them. So often even absurd abilities like changing gravity are not as fast as just playing levels straight with Meat Boy. It’s good stuff. Meat Boy is always one of the best characters for a level (in fact, time wise, he’s probably the best character 80% of the time at least). Warpzones are cool and bring in the concept of lives. Each of the 3 stages of a warp zone gives you 3 lives to complete it (unless it’s a character warpzone, in which case you have infinite). This is fine through most of the game, but near the end it just leads to tedium. It’s also annoying to have to go through the warpzone intro every time you lose all 3 lives on the first level. It’s a minor point, but as I was trying to complete the Skyscraper warpzone to unlock the Golden God achievement (Yes, for once I cared about an achievement: Total Completion), it would have been so nice to be able to skip that shit. Outside of that and the homing elements, there was thankfully few painful stages (Though they do exist!). I guess the boss fights could have been better? But who cares, they were mostly cinematic stages so it all worked out. Also the replay feature at the end of a stage where you see all your attempts at once is neat, but people seem to care too much about this adorable feature. The GAME is the best part, not the knickknacks.

I ran this game into the ground. For awhile I was around top 50 on Steam for Overall time (now people have pushed me up to 100 and something, but whatever). I played everything this game had and loved it. Despite it’s few rough spots, it’s easily my favorite game since Bayonetta come out. It’s a great example of how control can be used in a game to make platforming more interesting. I highly recommend it to anyone who is even slightly interested in 2d platforming still.

An In-Depth Character Study: Crimson Viper’s Breasts

Crimson Viper’s character design was goofy when I first saw it. She definitely wasn’t one of the new Street Fighter 4 characters I liked. Over time though, her design grew on me. She’s not a great example of character design, but she’s pretty cool! She looks like Angelina Jolie, has a cool suit, some crazy hair and kicks fire! Also hey cleavage, right? I love cleavage. While I never buy games due to sex appeal, I can certainly appreciate it as an admittedly perverted, red blooded male!

Only her knockers are a fucking travesty upon God

This might seem like a silly thing to write about and I assure you, IT IS, but it’s also a fun little topic over a pet peeve of mine. I also think theres a little glean here about design — and a bit on anatomy! Also again, as a man, I can’t resist a good excuse to talk about breasts. So anyways, let me begin with the story of C. Viper’s breasts — or sorta just C. Viper in general. Viper was designed to be sexy. She was designed to be a sexy female to appeal to the American male and as a powerful rival to Chun-li. The SNK inspired design, the Jolie-face, and the boob window, all chosen to appeal to Americans. The problem is, the character was not well received. Response was mixed. Maybe it was her goofy hair, or how out of place she feels in a Street Fighter game filled with semi plausible Martial Artists…. or maybe it was her… Boobs? Apparently they thought that, because Capcom of Japan immediately axed her bust size.

Lets go over this again. To try and make the character more likeable, they SHRUNK her bust size. Now lets be clear here, I’m not saying every female character has big breasts — obviously not. I mean, I love big boobs and draw them more than I probably should, but the sizing of breasts can change many things about a character. You can look at Cammy and her frame and her breast size and see the opposite side of things (big boobs would make her look retarded). But with C. Viper….

  • The change was made for a nonsensical reason: Maybe American audiences were scared of big boobs on a woman who was supposed to be a MILF?
  • The change conflicts with the character’s visual design: The whole big cleavage and tie look calls for bigger breasts. If you don’ want to do big breasts, don’t use that outfit
  • The change was HORRIBLY and ABYSMALLY modeled.

A little goofy in the modeling department, but they seem to mesh well with her visual design

So lets take a look at Viper’s original set. Viper, like all of the SF4 original cast, suffers from design inexperience in her model. Most of the original cast has little modeling quirks. For a lot of the guys, it’s okay. Ryu looks ape-ish (he’s sorta supposed to though I guess), Guile looks like he kinda has down syndrome, and Blanka is just 100% awful. Chun-Li looks mostly good, but has giant hands and a super generic face. Viper still has a share of problems. Her boobs are a bit awkward. They’re not too big really, but they’re a little nonsensical and how they eat her tie kinda looks weird. She has has some awkward bits with her hips and exposed midriff. Her hips just don’t taper off right or something, I can’t exactly say. This is pretty consistent with the read of the SF4 modeling issues. When the console characters came out — or the Super characters, it was much easier to see they got their modeling skills on track, but anyways…

So the logic was that Viper didn’t come off as a believable fighter in the Street Fighter universe. That is pretty true. The idea was then to reduce her bust (which honestly wasn’t that big as far as games go), to something more “reasonable” to make her more plausible. Personally I’d have just had them tighten up her model in general, but what do they do instead?

My friend Kenny calls them the ‘hamburgers’. Awkward in every conceivable way and totally at odds with either of her first two outfits.

Well, here we have C. Vipers SF4 hack-job breast reduction. She could practically sue for malpractice. First, they start at her COLLAR BONE. This is an artifact of her bigger breasts. Even in that case, the model was anatomically wrong as her top wouldn’t have had those results on her cleavage, but they were plausible. Now? They just look wrong. And they taper down in an awkward, goofy way. They look like hamburger buns. Combine that with her poorly placed tie and she looks like she has a mutant uni-boob. Everything is wrong. They start to high, they aren’t shaped right, they’re too close together and look ugly (If you’re going to model breasts wrong, at least make it the sexy kind of wrong). Clearly the reduction was done by lassoing her chest and squishing them back. A real hack job.

What gets me even more so is the whole idea clashes with her design. Shrinking her breasts isn’t going to make her into a plausible SF style fighter. It might do it a LITTLE BIT (and let me be clear when I say a LITTLE BIT), but at the cost of damaging the design strengths of the character. If you are unwilling to change the whole design, it is better to embrace it’s uniqueness and strengths, rather than cutting corners and making a character lame. Now, the reduction didn’t destroy C. Viper, but I notice it every time I play. It as a desperate gesture that was only a net loss. In a way, making her breasts bigger would have been a better response. If she’s going to be embraced as an out of place character, you might as well roll with it I suppose… and actually I think we can see now that it would have been a good idea.

They’re a bit on the big side, but if you’re dressing like that, they’re supposed to be.

MVC3 fixes a ton of modeling issues on Viper. Her hips and midriff are actually kinda sexy now! But her BREASTS. They’re a bit on the sillier side, size wise, but we’re not talking SC4 Ivy here. I think the important thing is it LOOKS right. The design is MEANT to have big obnoxious knockers. They also gave her real cleavage. The breasts are properly spaced apart and gives room for the whole tie motif to work. They have some actual weight to them, too. In action, they don’t even look that huge either (you tend to exaggerate parts of models to look good in motion and from a distance)! Viper looks great in Marvel vs Capcom 3. Everyone else seemed to know what Viper’s boobs were supposed to be like outside of the SF4 team. Even the ending animation realizes it, even though it’s….. sorta on the extreme side.

If they wanted to dodge the whole big boob thing, they could have. Actually having anatomically correct smaller boobs would have been FAR less glaring. If you also look at her last two alternative costumes, she looks great. They de-emphasis her chest. They don’t demand big cleavage anymore. Both the combat suit and the scientist suit look great and are stylish. They mesh with the character and don’t require huge boobs. Huge boobs aren’t always great! In fact, even if you do them right, they can look kinda gross, like SC4 Ivy. They’re modeled right and hang right and have the right weight to them, but they’re so large and implausible that they look awkward… to my goofy tastes, awkwardly HOT, but something that is something better reserved for pornographic material and not a fighting game where you want a character to be taken seriously.

So I dunno what the final moral is here, but it’s not entirely about boobs I guess. Just kinda embrace the elements that define your character and don’t make half assed compromises? That and just have nice boobs. They won’t make me buy your game, but I’ll appreciate it. :3

Both of Viper’s newer outfits look great without looking boobly. Conversely, Ivy looks like a washed up porn star in her 30s. Which happens to be a thing I’m into, but really shouldn’t be in a game. They’re also at least anatomically correct, if implausibly sized.

edit: Oh hey, I was linked on Eventhubs.

Anyways to respond to some of the comments. To all ya’ll who think I’m sick (true), will die a virgin (impossible unless you have a time machine) or never get laid (it’s admittingly infrequent!), I posted an article, to the public, on breasts. The concept alone is incredibly silly and I had a lot of fun doing it and also have a lot of fun reading all the reactions. I’m sorta above being hurt or bothered by such silly internetness. I’ve had a game out for a few years that has constantly brought me comical hate mail. I adore it all. But please, continue to have fun, but if your intent is to be legitimately hurtful, it won’t work. I like what I do too much.

For all of you that enjoyed my rambling little essay, thanks! I’m far from the best writer out there (FAAAAR from it), but I’d like to think some of my content is good and/or amusing. The rest of my blog probably won’t be nearly as funny, but feel free to take a look. I write a decent bit on fighting games!

I wish to respond to some comments publically though. Some of it is good, some of it is comically bad and some of it has new information!

Josh writes…

Viper herself is a travesty unto god, her poorly designed breasts are just a miniscule part of that. I fucking hate Viper. She is the worst female character Capcom has ever, EVER created. Nothing about her is likeable, and I mean, at all. People always say that she’s a mom and that makes her likeable, that’s just plain not true. She’s a condescending selfish bitch who only cares about salary and has no qualms about cheating. Her daughter, if anything, is probably going to grow up to be just as much of a cunt as she is.

This comment gave me a good laugh. This is the type of comment that is extremely fun to write and I bet Josh felt so good getting all that out that he went off to do manly things like punching bear. I got nothing to really add to it, but the sheer venom in his words made me laugh out loud.

HtH writes…

Yo dude the scientist outfit isnt like that ingame, it has gigantic cleavage:

Man, Capcom, thats weak. Your original design was much classier. Still, from this one screen shot it looks like a big improvement! It doesn’t necessarily look good (it might be, but I’d need to play with that outfit on. Which I won’t since I don’t buy costume packs), but they seem to at least be reasonably shaped and her tie doesn’t totally wreck her cleavage (though it’s still goofy. Her boobs need to SPREAD for it to work optimally, MVC3 style). I’d still prefer the classier concept art, but I suppose I can’t complain

Biggz writes…

You do realize C. VIper has the largest bust out of all of the street fighters? Look it up on Her bust is 98, compared to ibuki’s 95 and chun’s 88.

do your homework before you write an article .

Oh my god oh my god oh my god this comment is amazing. I don’t think I need to explain to anyone but Biggs that the bust size in the bio does not match the bust size of the model. They do not measure the model to create these numbers. They are artistic interpretations. Whats more though, it shows that Capcom was committed originally to Viper’s cleavage, only to abruptly give up in a moment of desperation. Either way, Biggz’s comment is amazing in it’s sheer idiocy. Also on the topic…

Doug writes…

Biggz, the biggest bust in the game is actually… Rufus’s. 180cm, delicious.

(Also, Rose’s is 96, which is almost as big as Viper’s)

Delicious indeed.

On eventhubs, some folks are talking about my own artwork. If you’re trying to hurt my feelings or something, HAHA, JOKES ON YOU: I KNOW MY ART SUCKS! Nice try! My artwork is a hobby, and yes, it is very flawed. I don’t fancy my self an illustrator and I am not aiming to ever be an professional illustrator. What I draw has no bearing at all on C. Viper’s breasts. They are a result of poor modeling in a professional capacity. They were also changed for a reason that is exceedingly ignorant. My art is something done every few months as a hobby, while money is sunk to pay professional artists to assets for a several million dollar game and these assets got signed off by management. Whats worse is MANAGEMENT TOLD THE BREASTS TO BE BUTCHERED.

Now, I’ll be totally fair here. Art is hard. Breasts are hard (well, when you draw them. Touching is another matter). Deadlines are rough. There is a lot to get done and often you gotta let things go. The only thing that was absolutely dumb was the last minute bust reduction. The SF4 artists have gone on to improve their skills and make awesome models in Super. I don’t want to imply any of them are talentless hacks. They’re way better than I am, obviously (I shouldn’t even need to SAY this, but just so it’s absolutely clear). If I put my art in a multi million dollar retail game, I couldn’t complain if someone laughed at it! It doesn’t belong there! They’ve also obviously gotten a better feel for what they’re doing with the newer characters.

But all of this does not mean C. Viper’s breasts are okay.

Just because I’m also probably a lousy director, that doesn’t mean I can’t say Plan 9 from Outerspace is an awful movie. I’ve seen what other professionals have done in the field and I know Plan 9 is bad. Do think her breasts are fine, or do you think they just should not be criticized? Both positions are equally laughable and I don’t think I need to explain why. What sort of breast TERRORIST would defend those things? It’s not like I’m yelling at the artists or pretending I could do any better — they’ll never know this is written and no, I can’t. I’m just taking a goofy flaw in a character model and making a comically big deal out of it. It’s not like I’m hurting her breast’s feelings or something. :)

Anyways, thats it for now! G’night folks!

Edit2: A few more tidbits, this time fro Eventhubs comments

Batsu writes…

Viper’s fine they way she is. People will complain about anything. People just need to STFU. And dude is wrong about Viper not appealing to many, everybody I know likes Viper. The guy behind that article is just a chump.

Terrornaut writes…

I know a ton of people that hate Viper’s design, or can’t get over her hair.

Its all varied.

And in those alpha vids posted…is chun li bigger all around there? Waist, thighs, arms? Should have kept the face from there. Kind of cherub thing goin on. Face looked so much better there. Also looks higher detail though, so maybe they had to cut it down. I definately like it, but don’t mind the changes, aside from tranny-li-face at some angles (her recovery from game over countdown, shudder)

Also smaller, but more pronounced chest?

Batsu writes…

“I know a ton of people that hate Viper’s design, or can’t get over her hair.”

Well I don’t…Most of the internet enjoys Viper and Viper players. Sounds to me like dude who wrote that article want’s her to be Mai or some Dead orAlive b!tch.

She’s fine the way she is. Like, she doesn’t have big anime knockers and a strange hair design. Get over it.

So the beautiful baller Terrornaut tries to reasonably state “You know, I think maybe you don’t have an adequate sample size, I know some people who don’t like C. Viper”. Batsu replies that I want some anime chick and that C Viper is fine because she doesn’t need big breasts or stupid hair and everyone likes her. Not only does Batsu clearly lack reading comprehension, but he clearly has never actually looked at C. Vipers hair… and since he’s defending her malformed breasts (which is more the problem. Size is a stylistic issue), I think he may lack any comprehension. Of course this ignores the fact I like C. Viper and often play her! I like her stupid hair too! The issue is, RESPONSE WAS BAD. But don’t take my word for it!

Yoshinori Ono writes, after Comic Com…

With all due respect to him, he’s a great character, but honestly we thought Crimson Viper would be a big hit here,” Ono said. “We got a lot of marketing data and a lot of advice from our U.S. branch in creating that character. She was kind of custom-tailored for the States and we thought people would like her.

If I dug around enough I’m pretty sure I could find other articles displaying Capcom’s disappointment at her reception. That doesn’t mean people don’t like her, or people haven’t grown to like her, but man, I’m not making shit up here.

Heres a bit that has little to do with anything…

Assy02 writes…

“Who cares were man” Stupidest comment i ever heard.A real man wouldn’t make big deals over a person chest.Just little boys and there games is all i see

Utils writes…

A real man hits the spacebar after punctuation marks.

Assy02 writes…

A real man can find something better to say than something stupid like hits the “hit spacebar after punctuation marks”.Like if your gonna insult someone come up with something better :P

Something better? Dude, that was the best. It is a shame Assy02 can’t understand the awesomeness of the burn Util laid upon him. It screams “You don’t put enough effort into your sentences, so why should I take you seriously?” I’m not one to talk about having proper grammar (I find my own to be embarrassingly lacking), but come on folks, that’s the least you can do for your fellow reader.

The Executive Barrier

Hey guys, remember that Platforms and Pitfalls podcast? Well, 3 casts in a row have failed to properly record, though I was only on the last one of those. Fortunately I remember a chunk of my talking points about the “grind” that many people feel exist in games (Even non-RPGs). So I’m going to cover some of that information and some new stuff. This will probably be a bit sloppy and meandering, but if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll realize this is pretty standard. Anyways…

The executive barrier exists in many games. It is the requirement a game puts on those poor fingers of yours for you to succeed or win. This concept exists in most real time video games and is usually how difficulty is manifested in a game. Mastery of manual execution and improvement is one of those things that makes the brain release happy chemicals for hardcore gamers. The industry has strove to find ways to emulate this feeling of success and mastery without actually requiring the player to possess any real skill. This is both interesting and useful for often disappointing for the hardcore! Firstly here, I want to write about competitive gaming.

Starcraft, Quake and Street Fighter

What do these games have in common? For one, they’re all successful competitive games. Secondly, they probably have the most competitive player base of their respective genres. Halo may get more players, but Quake’s community is ravenously competitive. Starcraft and Street Fighter (outside of Japan at least) stand alone in their genre. Thirdly, all three games have a very high executive barrier to play competitively. In fact, to some extent all three are hard to even play at ANY level. Many would argue against that inaccessibility. So have many developers! Yet few have managed to make much of a dent and even when they do, the executive barrier is merely masked. Games like Halo and Smash Bros are not easy games to play well, but are easy to pick up. In many cases (like the entire RTS genre), the competition fails in it’s entirety. One would think that the most accessible games would be the most popular, but this is unintuitively false in most cases.

The strength of an online gaming community rests on its most competitive players.

A community without a competitive backbone stagnates and dies. Even more so, deeply competitive players are needed for a game community to sign. Rivalries and new opponents spark interest and push tactics forward. Cool new tactics make casual or spectating players go “Wow! I wanna do that”! They keep the game relevant and in peoples minds. You should know how this works, even from silly little Facebook games. Not even evil ones, just the fact that you are driven to play Bejeweled Blitz again because someone just beat your score. Competitive players and communities cause this same effect at a greater level.

So why the executive barrier? Games can be difficulty strategically and be mentally taxing! Well oddly enough, and you’ll have to take my word for this, it is exceedingly rare that players who are more focused on the mental aspect are deeply competitive in real time genres. I don’t wish to say these people don’t exist — I know quite a number of them — but they are not in enough number to drive a communities growth and survival. Your typical competitive monster enjoys the dexterous demands of games. We can see this by looking at what games are hugely popular competitively. We can even look at Smash Bros and see what that community valued (high difficulty techniques in Melee), despite it’s lower end of accessibility. But more importantly, competitive players seem to enjoy multiple avenues of improvement.

A lot of players talk about wanting to play a game for the STRATEGY. Some people don’t care at all for that and go play DDR. But the deeply competitive player seems to do it all and while they may (and often do) have a preference for one avenue of skill, they seem to enjoy it all. Even at a lower level of play, multiple avenues of improvement allow players to always have something to improve at. Raising APM in Starcraft, movement techniques in Quake, or combos in Street Fighter. Or they could work on strategy and knowledge. They can, in the most successful games, work on one of a vast array of avenues of improvement. Improvement is addictive in a lot of ways.

Artificial Reward

Artificial reward is a tool to reward a player in a way that is pleasing to the brain. The improvement described above can be used to The most obvious example of this is RPGs. Improvement is ‘given’ to the player through a game mechanic. Rising numbers for a casual player (non competitive ‘casual’ not Wii ‘casual’) can be very very rewarding. The entire MMO RPG genre is based on a combination of this and the social aspect. One or the other can bring someone back to the game, creating something that is very sticky and satisfying for a lot of players. The reward system is also clever. Consistency of rising levels combined with inconsistent rewards from drops create a really good effect, as anyone who’s read about a Skinner’s Box would know. Many of these games are also not necessarily devoid of skill or real rewards. There are many super competitive WoW players and while the grind might not be their favorite part, they can still enjoy other aspects of the game. Many games are now also relying on the so called ‘visceral’ feel to make people feel like they achieved something. Play God of War or Call of Duty — while these games have their hard points, even easy conquests feel like an accomplishment sheerly through presentation. This can be pretty shallow, but rarely does it detract from fun. Such presentation is usually only a net gain, besides when it feels forced and artificial. Even IWBTG accomplishes this. The game is presented to seem harder than it is. While it is truly a hard game, it is a VERY beatable game. People still ask if anyone has ever beaten it, which is funny because thousands of people surely have. Even the fixed screens are used to give a discrete reward, compared to scrolling which is vague. Since each screen is so hard and usually has something funny happen, each new screen is it’s own reward. Bringing up IWBTG leads into…

The Mixed Approach and management of the Executive Barrier

Many games realize now that you can mix artificial and real rewards in a single game. This is controversial among competitive folks (myself included) who often hate artificial boundaries or time sinks, but competitive players are the most likely to deal with one thing they don’t like to do something they do like. League of Legends combines MOBA gameplay with a leveling system. This helps maintain a community and a player base that spans various skill levels. Even bad players have something to look forward to. TF2’s hat and item bullshit in theory exist without hurting the actual game (though in practice…), but give casuals something to look forward to each week. Since your drop limit resets each week, players are prompted to at least play weekly! Blizzard also worked this into their Laddering system with Starcraft 2. By putting players into smaller “Divisions”, they allow improvement to be easier to track. Bonus pools (Google it) give an intensive to come back and help ‘artificially’ inflate your rank. WoW succeeds at this with many high level raids and PVP activities that are level and skill intensive. Many games also go for the visual flair. Single Player wise, DMC or Bayonetta are both hard AND flashy. Competitively, Street Fighter’s ultras are clearly to appeal to the ‘cool’ factor of casuals and the fact that you get it by losing insures you always have a chance to try it. Many designers also realize that if they cannot reduce the executive barrier safely in their game, that they can streamline it. Starcraft 2 is a great example. Many players scoffed at features like Auto Mine, better path finding, Multi Building Select and Unlimited Sized unit groups when they were announced, claiming they would detract from the skill of the game. Blizzard was careful though! They instead included new micro and macro mechanics that were designed to feel great. Better spells and abilities across the board and more ways to harass and micro units. What they streamlined out were skills that made the game less accessible. Constantly sending workers to mine and managing 10 different construction buildings is hard and REQUIRED to play at a basic level. Now a player can play in bronze and actually play the game. He might not use his chronoboost, or call all the MULES he should and thus will still loose to better players, but his matches against other Bronze players will be less of a farce.

As a designer what one would want to do is not stifle the executive layer — that would just stifle the motivations of many of your most important players. Instead you want to streamline it. You want to make paths of improvement be more apparent. You want to prevent the player from being crippled when merely playing at a low level. You want to prevent what feels like ‘roadblocks’ to improvement. In a perfect world, where you care about accessibility, you would try and make it so the executive barrier is more of a slope and, at it’s most extreme levels, an optional one with limited, but definite rewards. There is no ultimate point to all this, just trying to cover some of the Platform and Pitfalls information while covering some other information. At the very least I hope you can see why many games are moving in this direction and why execution in games is not an element that could simply be excised without loss.

An Aside on Skill

This isn’t exactly related to the above, but I figure I might as well type it up now anyways. I’ve had a lot of people refer to Super Meat Boy as a game with a lot of “luck”. While I would argue that some aspects of the game introduce more “luck” (note the quote marks) into it than necessary, by and large, the game is not about “luck”. The ideas that it is a matter of luck as to whether you will ultimately succeed at all the trials in front of you in a row is a misunderstanding of the concept of skill. It is true that you can “luck” your way through an area or that you know you can do something but you have to wait until you are “lucky” enough to do all these somethings in a row, but this “luck” rests purely on you. This “luck” is merely variance in your skill.

So what is “skill”? Or rather, what does it mean to “grow in skill” or “improve?”

  • To increase performance. Lower times, faster scores, bigger combos, more wins. Most people’s definition stops here.

What is variance? It is the chance yo have at succeeding at any given task. For example, through luck, one could juggle 3 balls for a few passes before luck runs out. As you improve, your performance increases (you are smoother and last longer), but this is also related to variance. You become less likely to fail. Eventually a juggler gets to the points where 3 ball juggling possesses virtually no variance. In theory they could juggle indefinitely. Chances are they would fail eventually, but for all intents and purposes, their skill at that task is high enough that the variance is practically 0. When you improve at a sport, let’s say golf… you don’t just hit the ball further, you hit it further more consistently. You require less lucky shots to do what you are theoretically capable of. In Super Meat Boy, most stages are beaten before variance reaches 0. This is the “luck” people feel, but it is different from actual luck. Bejeweled Blitz requires a lot of luck, because if you don’t start with or make an early multiplier, you’ll never get a high score. That is not under your control. That is real luck. The luck elements in Super Meat Boy include missiles and evil meat boys and the like — homing, somewhat unpredictable elements — but even these can be bested consistently with a proper plan. I think the problem with Meat Boy is people get through most the game purely on their luck. It’s also possible in IWBTG. They never learn to play properly (which, unlike IWBTG, is actually important in SMB)! In Super Meat Boy, learning the plow through stages for the best time shows you how all elements are put together to interact in predictable ways that are often favorable to you. If you tip toe through the levels or rely on alt characters too often, you cripple yourself until you get stuck at the more demanding areas of the game. I’ve had people bitch about the length of The End, but if you’ve played the game properly, you’d realize The End is made up of the fairest and most reliable jumps in the game. No homing BS or anything. But to the player who has gotten by on luck, it’s all the same. Do not confuse luck with your own failing. It might be hard to tell if it’s you or a game, but if you’re talking about Super Meat Boy, it’s you. There are some unfair and arguably poorly made bits in the game, but not for the reasons of “luck”… only for being too demanding.