Sunday, July 31, 2011

August Releases - Fruit, Fantasy, and Football!

August 10th

Fruit Ninja Kinect
Xbox 360: Arcade Kinect
Developer: Halfbrick
Publisher: Microsoft

August 16th

El Shaddai: Ascension on the Metatron
PS3-Xbox 360
Developer: Ignition Entertainment
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment

August 23rd

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
PS3-Xbox 360-PC
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix

PS3-Xbox 360-PC
Developer: Guildford Studio
Publisher: Codemasters

August 30th

Madden NFL 2012
PS3-Xbox 360
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Games

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Do Fighting Games Need a Strong Story?

Fighting games have never had very strong narratives. I have never purchased a fighting game expecting character development, emotional cut scenes, or memorable dialogue. I play a fighting game for the obvious, frantic core of it all...the fighting.

And yet, elements of a story are all in place in these games. The game sets characters toward a goal: Win a world tournament, stop an ancient evil, claim an all-powerful weapon, etc. Characters are even tailored to specific roles, the poster children for good guys like Ryu of Street Fighter and Liu Kang of Mortal Kombat are clearly portrayed as the heroes. Likewise, Nightmare of Soul Calibur and Kazuya of Tekken are obviously the baddies.

Everything is in why is there not more emphasis on story?

A blog I stumbled upon in the great wide Internets hit the nail on the head. In a short entry looking into the same topic of fighting game stories, his/her words can be summed up with this:
"If any developer, designer, player, or writer absolutely needs to blame the current sorry state of fighting game stories on any one thing, they can blame it on the arcades, the place where this whole mad scene started"
The arcade influence is still too heavy in fighting games to provide a narrative. Fighting games are still much more of a competitive, two player, pick up and play experience. Even in the single player arcade, the only mode with true story in most fighters, the second player can still press start at any time to hop in and challenge you. There is even a countdown screen when you lose a fight on most of these to Continue. It's much like a puzzle game that would hold your attention for a time. Did you play Tetris because you felt a strong desire to build disappearing buildings for the entertainment of local children? With these types of game it never becomes a question of story, but what fight or what stage is next.

Then there is the idea of a story progression mode, such as the past attempt at this in Mortal Kombat: Deception's "Konquest" feature. This open world option allowed you to move along collecting coins and going from point to point to...well...fight. It was like playing Arcade mode, but I had to physically walk to my next battle. Unlike other genres of gaming that open up new game play elements, new weapons, new enemies, or epic boss battles; the fighting genre already has most of everything it can offer from the start to players. If anything, arcade and story modes simply exist to train you for online competition.

You must also consider the idea of what is "canon". With most games clocking in at a 15+ character roster, which one is considered "the" iconic story to follow? While most would agree the main characters like Ryu or Kyo Kusanagi (King of Fighters) would be the story to document, there will be other devotees to different characters. It's safe to say that Sub-Zero is not considered a supporting cast member to many.

Does this mean a big story is not possible? Of course not, developers just choose not to center the game around it.

The director of Marvel vs Capcom promised a truly in-depth story for the latest installment, with a Marvel writer taking the helm no less. That idea was obviously scratched and left me pretty disappointed. Here was a sporting roster of colorful characters and personalities with great potential that ended with a story panel that made no sense. This is Marvel comics we are talking about; the same people that can kill Captain America, but not really kill Captain America, but time travel with Captain America all at the same time. Needless to say, I expected a little bit more with a comic book writer on board.

Recent games have improved upon the typical story formula recently. Blazblue in particular was praised for its story instead of the run of the mill arcade and ending. Although it was much more favored to the anime enthusiast, it provided choices in the story and branching paths that made for an interesting addition. Street Fighter 4 at least chose to include small "rival" scenes in which two characters exchange words. I had no clue what they were discussing most of the time, but it was a nice addition that built the fight up.

Do I ever expect fighters to contain full fledged cinematics and stellar voice work to sway me from competitive online play to AI battles? No. I do expect smaller aspects to improve as time goes on, however. The most I could ask for at this point is a stellar character ending that actually makes sense, because at this point in gaming; fighters are still all about the fighting.

So what do you think? Do you ever want your fighting games to contain fleshed out stories? Is the tride and true Arcade mode enough to tide you over?

Sources: I Speak Comics by Sumo. - Worth a read for his fighting game articles, hits a lot of great points.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Summer Post: Beach Levels in Gaming

Summer. The sun shining down, the cool breeze offering a moment of relief from the heat, and the sounds of the waves crashing gently against the shore, retreating to the ocean to repeat the cycle anew. Who could guess that such a relaxing, pristine setting in real life could also be one of the best locales a video game could offer. In no particular order, here are a few games that gave some memorable beach excursions.

Koopa Troopa Beach
Mario Kart (1997)

Whenever the word beach is uttered with the word gaming, Koopa Troopa Beach from Mario Kart 64 is always the first to come to mind. Waves continually washed in and out of the track, sometimes covering the smaller paths. Crabs posed a threat as they moved side to side, threatening to drop you from 1st to 4th. The overall ambiance of the track was boosted with the catchy island tune in the background. It was a fast, fun, and memorable race destination.

Treasure Trove Cove
Banjo Kazooie (1998)

Banjo Kazooie had a host of worlds to explore, each more unique than the last. One of the best was introduced early on; Treasure Trove Cove. This open-world beach played host to some unique platforming and battles, including collecting treasure for Captain Blubber to defeating Nipper, the giant hermit crab.

Gelato Beach
Super Mario Sunshine (2002)

It is just not a beach blog without mentioning the game centered around an island paradise. Super Mario Sunshine sported many island locations, but Gelato Beach was one to behold. Being able to see the pristine beach and crystal clear water was incentive enough to help clean the beach of any pollutants with F.L.U.D.D. Collecting red coins in a coral reef, pushing a giant watermelon along a boardwalk, and even fighting a giant Wiggler on the beach made this one memorable beach world.

Silent Cartographer
Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

Halo took beaches and introduced them to Michael Bay. The second you touch down on the beach you are bombarded by Covenant fire with the classic Halo theme backing your regime. The level consists of you driving around the island, infiltrating various facilities as you blast your way through a Covenant armada. It was a strangely satisfying feeling as you splashed through shallow waters in your Warthog to your next destination, gunning down Elites along the way.

Chapter 8: Sandtraps
Half Life 2 (2004)

After driving along the coast line for a time, you soon must trudge along a beach to face the Combine head on at Nova Prospekt. Disembarking from your vehicle landed you in a mad dash past Antlion infested sands. It was the latter half of this chapter with the beach confontration at night that stuck with me the most. With control of Antlions via Bugbait, you marched past the rocky shore to soldier outposts, leaving devastation in your wake. It was a nice contrast from fearing to welcoming the Antlion presence, and such a distration that you almost forgot that you were on a beach.