Tuesday, August 12, 2014

USFIV, slideshow version

I tried to add a Street Fighter video to my Youtube channel, but it was more like a slideshow. I was thinking that it could have been because I was connected via wireless, but apparently I'm not the only one with the problem.

Here you go anyway, if only for humor's sake and for subsequent comparison.

Ken's Ultra reaches a little farther than expected, both in the first and third rounds. Done out of total desperation on my part, that Evil Ryu player should have eviscerated me.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The harsh reality of being old.

When you're really young, it's not that important to get it 100% right - just the idea that you're trying to do things and putting yourself out there is enough

When you're still young but not brand new, it's easy to be brash and outspoken, and perhaps people don't criticize what you do all the time because they can say, "Oh, they're still young. It's OK, they'll grow out of it." You can establish yourself as you develop your identity, and people will flock to you initially out of novelty, and then stay with you out of a sense of familiarity.

Everybody understands that things change, and perhaps the four year old and the ten year old look at the same things and have a completely different approach - to the point where the four year old couldn't even imagine what the choices of the ten year old would be, and the ten year old can't imagine the choices of the twenty-one year old. Once you've matured that much, perhaps the path forward becomes more intuitive, and sometimes when you can step back and look at all the changes, it's easier to see how you got from point A to point B. That doesn't stop the temptation of doing something brash just to get attention, or maybe just sticking by your guns and hoping that you find the right people to appreciate you.

Of course, I'm talking about Street Fighter. While it's Capcom's second biggest franchise (Resident Evil is their biggest) it's not experiencing the sort of mainstream popularity that it used to. While arcades were starting to dwindle at the end of the 80's, the strength of the Street Fighter II series games made arcades relevant again and paved the way for the character versus character fighting game to become the dominant paradigm of the arcade, instead of all of the shooting games that followed in the footsteps of Space Invaders and Defender.

In its middle age, the Street Fighter III series tried to abandon all of the old characters except Ryu and Ken, and had many problems retaining an audience due to its extreme difficulty and unfamiliarity. Later versions of the game brought back some favorite characters, but it was too late and still too difficult a game for mainstream audiences.

As a mature game, the Street Fighter IV series which is currently on its fourth home release over the course of  six years has tried to straddle the line between innovating and keeping the fan base satisfied. While it's selling more copies than it did during the Street Fighter III era, Street Fighter's overall cultural relevance has waned a little. More people are familiar with the cheesy "Street Fighter" movie with Raul Julia and Jean-Claude Van Damme than are familiar with the newer "Street Fighter:The Legend of Chun Li" starring Kristin Kreuk. It really hit home for me on Tuesday this week when I picked up my copy of Ultra Street Fighter IV. I had been to Target at lunch earlier in the day and had walked through the game section. If they had the new game, I didn't notice. Even when I got to my local Gamestop after work to pick my copy up one the way home, it's not like they had a big cardboard standup in the store or a bunch of copies on the shelf. I handed them my preorder receipt, and they had to look for it. It took them just long enough to find it that I had a moment where I started to worry that CAPCOM had delayed the release date and didn't tell anyone. Maybe now that the game is this old, they don't worry about the marketing so much because they figure they're not going to get any better audience that what they already have?

I like the new characters, although they're not entirely new. Hugo, Elena, Rolento, and Poison were all available characters in other games, and Decapre is visually similar to Cammy. Despite my concerns, Decapre plays like a completely new character. For that matter, the other four new characters have all had some adjustments to them that make them play a little differently than their previous incarnations.

The challenge mode in the game that gives you a set of specific objectives for each character in an attempt to teach you the moveset of each character had gone unfinished in the previous edition of the game, and at the moment is still unfinished. A future patch has been promised, and I will be looking forward to it. I found that I had never really learned Yun and Yang properly from the previous version without the challenge mode. Sure, you can go in training and mess around, and it's not like you can't look up the moves. but I found the challenges a good foundation for learning the other characters. Another feature of the game that I hadn't quite expected is that it pulls in your data from other games, so it knows that I played SFxTekken, and it knows what my scores and character usage from Street Fighter IV:Arcade Edition are.

I'm pretty happy with the game, even if I'm not the most awesome player of Fei Long or Vega or Dan on the internet. I'm looking forward to a lot of games against my older son and my friends. (My older son plays as T. Hawk, and I heard that they made some improvements to his moves. I guess I better watch out.)

The only thing that seems to bug me about the game is one of the the reasons that I waited to get the full retail version of the game on disk was so I could have all the costumes in one shot and get that over and done with. As soon as the game came out a new set of costumes was announced. I know, it's the new thing to monetize add-on content to every game, and it just doesn't sit well with me.

Maybe it's because I'm old.

Friday, August 1, 2014

What Wii still have left to play...

I was reminded at the store today that some people still have their original Wii, and haven't upgraded to the WiiU. It made me think that there are some really good games out there that if you didn't play on the Wii, you still should. I would also add that you will have a better time playing these games on your Wii hooked to a good TV using the component video cables than you will playing those games on a WiiU because of what the WiiU's upscaling looks like.

Here's a quick list of my personal favorites for the Wii that you might want to go back and play if you accidentally skipped them. The more mature-rated games are further down the list.

The Legend of Zelda:Twilight Princess (single player)
The Legend of Zelda:Skyward Sword (single player)
Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 (mostly single player, but a second player can assist a little)
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (up to 4 players)
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (up to 4 players)
Mario Kart Wii (1-4 players)
Excitebots Trick Racing
Wii Sports Resort (1-4 players)
Most of the LEGO games (Star Wars 1-3, Indiana Jones 1&2, Batman 1&2, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter 1-4 and 5-7, Lord of the Rings)
de Blob and de Blob 2 (single player - the first game is groundbreaking, but the second game is easier to control because jumping was mapped to a button instead of waving the Wii Remote)
Kirby's Epic Yarn (1-2 players, unbearably cute for some people)

Okami (single player, especially good if you liked the Zelda games )
Sengoku Basara (1-2 players. #1 game at my house by total hours played, but not for everyone)

Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition (single player, Mercenaries mode is still a lot of fun for a long time after you've finished the main story.)
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom (1-2 players, the only conventional fighting game on the Wii.)
No More Heroes 1 & 2 (While its status as 'Mature' content is often questionable as some of the humor is rather juvenile and crude, the games have a unique presentation and narrative without being so artistic as to be a drag on actually playing the game.)
Metroid: Other M (Single player. The game is ridiculous in many aspects, and there's no reason Samus needs to talk, but it was full of interesting combat and exploration and a streamlined control scheme that uses only the Wiimote. Metroid Prime Trilogy is also a great game that used to be three great smaller games, but the controls are more complicated.)
Sin and Punishment (single player, an interesting take on the rail shooter genre. I was glad that I picked it up for $20 when I could as copies have crept back up to $50 in some places.)
Pikmin 1 & 2 New Play Control ( story is 1 player in both games, Pikmin 2 has some multiplayer vs. games available after finishing the main game. They are conversions of a couple of the best Gamecube games that Nintendo made.)

I might also suggest the Rayman games and the Rabbid spinoff games, although they are not in my personal collection. I don't put games like Call of Duty or Tiger Woods or Rock band on this list because if you really wanted to play those games when they came out you're unlikely to be a Wii owner.

Feel free to pick on this list or suggest more.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cubing in Public, Neurology Edition.

I haven't talked about cubing that much since I've been excited about PS3 and WiiU things the last few months, so I probably have a few too many things saved up to talk about.

I discovered that there is someone at my local drugstore that can at least solve two layers of the cube, and he says that he had learned in middle school but had fallen out of practice. It's nice to see him at the register now, since I have something to talk to him about other than just random chit-chat stuff.  The first few times I encountered him he was on the late shift, so with fewer people in the store we had a chance for him to demonstrate what he could do. I just saw him a couple of days ago but I couldn't find out if he had been practicing because he was getting a fairly thorough talking-to by the store manager about several things but thankfully none of those things were about why you shouldn't operate a Rubik's cube on company time.

About a month or so ago, I was at an event where there were various vendors present, some of which were giving away various trinkets and things for kids to do which included one of those slightly oversize cubes made of rather soft plastic. You can see the kind I'm talking about here from one of my old YouTube videos, it's the same as the largest one. Instead of regular stickers, it has very eye-catching shiny laser-cut stickers with circular patterns on them, so one of my kids grabbed one for me. Since we got it for free and those are usually pretty cheap to start with, I didn't feel bad about taking it with me to work and leaving it out at the sales counter for people to mess with. What I didn't realize was that it wouldn't take much abuse, so someone managed to shear the foot off of one of the edge pieces within a few days of it being out at the counter. To me, it's just hard to turn and I know to ease up on the softer pieces.  You can still place the piece in such a way that it looks like it's together, so now it's just fun to leave it at the counter and see who thinks that they broke it. The guy that actually did break it has become interested in cubing, and got himself a GhostHand cube and learned how to solve it. The only other person that I usually see at my counter that can solve a Rubik's Cube (that I know of) has started working on larger cubes, and he's been practicing on the 4x4x4 and the 5x5x5.

The cube has been a good icebreaker for me at work, even to the point where my boss will put me up to it in an attempt to showcase me to certain customers that hadn't dealt with me yet. I'd like to think that it allows me to make a good impression as someone that may have talents that are not immediately apparent, and that I can demonstrate fluid competency on something that most people would struggle with. What was surprising to me was that he used it to re-introduce me to our division vice president when he stopped by this last week. During the introduction phase of the meeting, my boss asked me to get a cube so I should show the group my particular talent.  I grabbed my GhostHand and my DaYan that I have out at the counter and gave the group my usual demonstration, and tried to field questions as best I could. The division vice president started to ask me something about my "God-given talent" and I felt compelled to interrupt him as fast as I could and emphasize that what he was seeing was purely the result of practice, and the only natural advantage I might have had to start with is having a good spatial sense. It's a little sad, I suppose, that for all of the time that I spend with a cube I'm not anywhere near the fastest in the world. Last time I checked, if I averaged 35 seconds under competition conditions, my ranking would be somewhere are 16,000th in the world. What I realized, though, is pure speed is not really the thing that I practice any more. What I do and what I seem to practice is demonstrating the cube while solving it, and being able to maintain my end of a conversation and answering questions while solving it. It may not be conducive to me having better times, but I'm still enjoying it, and I'd like to think it's more entertaining this way. Our division vice president used my little demonstration as a way to segue into talking about how each branch and in a larger sense the entire company needs to work as a team, and about how it's helpful to have a mix of different talents available on those teams.

Several of the regular customers at our counter are accustomed to me, despite some of my personality quirks, but only one so far had been daring enough to drop this question on me.

"So, are you autistic? Like your brain never shuts off?"

I didn't really know how to answer the question at that moment, but it's certainly something I've thought about. All I could tell him was that both of my children have been diagnosed with Asperger's, and that the current version of the DSM includes Asperger's as part of a larger generalized disorder diagnosis criteria. I think I may have made some sort of "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" comment as well (or I thought it but I'm unable to distinguish the difference when replaying the event in my head later). The customer then went on about how autism was probably caused by "those big needles they stick in women when they're pregnant". At the time I presume he was talking about epidural anesthesia, but now that I think of it he could have just as easily have been talking about amniocentesis. I had to remind him that there are strong genetic factors involved in autism and Asperger's and I tried to describe the surge in cases in Silicon Valley, but I think I came off like a rambling lunatic. It's not uncommon to come off like a rambling lunatic if you present a completely different viewpoint that someone else is unprepared for.

As far as I can tell, no my brain does not shut off.

Certainly there are facets of my behavior that are similar to those of my children, and there are things that I still have to deal with now that most people that aren't on the spectrum don't give even a moment's notice to. When I'm comparing my immediate family to other people I tend to consider myself closer neurologically to my children and my wife than the public at large, but I realize that I'm probably a little bit closer to neurotypical than they are. This isn't an on/off sort of thing - this is precisely why it's referred to as a 'spectrum'. There are a wide range of presentations and behaviors, and you're going to see the same kind of diversity that you would hope to find in the public at large.

So, maybe I am autistic, or maybe I'm just part of the larger autistic phenotype but for me doesn't matter. It matters a little bit for my kids, if only in making sure they don't get run over by the modern standards and metrics-based approach to the education system. Asperger's isn't something that's going to be 'cured'.   Often, smart kids with Asperger's weren't even being diagnosed in years past because the profile of 'gifted' seemed to allow for a lot of eccentricity. Most of what's required in a setting that's trying to foster real growth - for any person - is knowing what an individual's strengths and weaknesses are, and working with it. If that means a visual schedule, or a to-do list, or a flowchart helps get things done, then that's how it should be done. To my friends, I'm not a diagnosis, I'm just me. And if that's the person that can explain imaginary numbers to their kids, or figure out why a particular cable routing has less signal gain than is required, or knows what flavors of Mountain Dew are available where, or can find an obscure part out in the warehouse, or remembers what happens when you just barely move the on-off switch of an Atari 2600 to the off position and back on again, or the guy that can explain a Rubik's cube while solving it, then that's the me that they expect - and I'm happy to be that person.

As a side note, the event where we picked up the cheap cube was one of the Surfers for Autism events. Ever since my older son had been diagnosed, we have been going to these events in our area when we can. It's a great organization, and they get a lot of community support everywhere they go. It's been a great opportunity for us to talk to other parents going through what we're going through, and to talk to people about Asperger's and how understanding the underlying neurology of Asperger's may lead to more insight to the other autism spectrum disorders. It's been one of the best things for our family in terms of dealing with our own idiosyncrasies and learning about ourselves in a new context.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Another report from the land of WiiU.

These are things I am glad about, some of which I realized beforehand and some I didn't.

1) The WiiU Game Pad is a pretty good controller even without the screen on it, when it's a game where a traditional controller is a good fit. The analog sticks are very responsive, the button layout and the physical contours of the controller are comfortable in the hand, and the screen is just a nice bonus.

2) NintendoLand is a good, solid, way to get used to using the Game Pad. It's a little cutesy, but the various activities are all modeled after beloved Nintendo first party franchises. The Pikmin game in NintendoLand is a household favorite.

3) Nintendo's attempt to increase their attach rate by offering a free download game with the purchase of Mario Kart 8 may be working a little bit. (It's still going to go on through the end of July, so if you were thinking about getting a WiiU this summer, it's not a bad way to start.) We opted for New Super Mario Bros. WiiU, since we already picked up Pikmin 3 and our console was bundled with Wind Waker HD.

4) My older son seems to be a little better at Mario Kart 8 than I am, and I'm actually really excited about that. (For those of you that are wondering, the answer is Rosalina, the Circuit Special, the Slicks, and the Cloud Glider. We don't have the Cyber Slicks unlocked yet.) We've even managed to win some races playing on the internet.

5) My younger son spends most of his time on the WiiU playing regular Wii games. At the moment, everyone is taking another swing at The Legend of Zelda:Skyward Sword when we're not playing Mario Kart 8 or New Super Mario Bros. WiiU or Pikmin 3.

6) If you're bad at a particular level of New Super Mario Bros. and you're playing the Wii or WiiU versions, eventually an exclamation block will appear at the beginning of the level. Ordinarily this would not be a big deal, since it's there to ask you if you need help. If you hit the block, Luigi shows you a way to get through the level. It's just that the noise that the game makes when that block is present sounds an awful lot like a doorbell, which means that our dogs have to bark at it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Change happens -OR- When lefty is not right.

Getting a new game console has seemed like an upheaval every time it's happened. For a long time, I was only concerned with Nintendo consoles, so it was simple enough to tell when it was time to get the newer console.  At a certain point, they stop making the games you want for the console you have, and the effort goes into making the games you want for the console you don't have yet. However, near the end of a console cycle, it's very easy to amass some of the titles you hadn't played for a quarter of the price you might have paid otherwise. In the Nintendo and Super Nintendo era, that usually meant pawn shops and yard sales, but in subsequent generations that also meant clearance bins and record stores and game stores. So, the end of each console cycle meant weighing your amassed collection against how much you wanted to play the new games.

Now if there's only one specific game series that you play, then it's usually child's play to make the determination, since you just play your old system until the game you want comes out for the new system. This is especially true for system exclusives like Nintendo's Mario, Zelda and Metroid series games, Sony's Gran Turismo games, or the Halo series on XBox. At the other far end of the spectrum, if you have more money and time than everyone else, it's also very easy since you can just get each console when it comes out and pick up whatever you find interesting at the time. If you fall somewhere in the middle (which most of us do) and play a variety of games but aren't in a position to get or even have time to play everything, then usually the decision to get a new console and which console to get is tied to the point at which you can afford a new console but you can no longer afford to be left behind on a particular game series. For example, I played a lot of Street Fighter on the Super Nintendo, but when the next generation of consoles came out Capcom made no effort to make them for the Nintendo 64 since it was a style of game not well-suited to the N64's controllers or hardware. So, the other systems got Street Fighter versions but not the N64, and I eventually got my hands on a Playstation so that I could continue on in that series. When Street Fighter continued on to the Dreamcast, however, I was not compelled to get a Dreamcast since there weren't enough of the other games that I was playing available for that system. The Playstation 2 had a lot to offer at that point, it played all my existing Playstation games, and it also doubled as a DVD player so I couldn't find a way for the Dreamcast to outweigh the PS2's benefits.

My Wii tanked completely at Christmas of last year, months after having done a laser module replacement myself. There were a lot of things my kids were still playing on it, even though I had started getting all of the new LEGO games for my Sony Playstation 3 instead of for Wii. I couldn't have regrouped fast enough to pick up a WiiU at that point, and we still had plenty of things to play on PS3. So, I started figuring out when I could get one.

My tipping point for the WiiU was Pikmin 3. The Pikmin series is fundamentally about managing a group of entities, the bipedal but flower-like Pikmin, to complete tasks on your behalf. Different Pikmin types are able to perform different types of tasks and some tasks can be performed by all of the Pikmin. These tasks include finding parts to repair your ship, collecting treasure, and collecting sustenance.

I really enjoyed Pikmin 1 and 2, and I still like to go back and play the challenge mode boards on Pikmin 1. As both Pikmin 1 and 2 were on the GameCube and largely overlooked by mainstream gaming since the words "Theft", "Duty" and "War" were not in the title, I was a little surprised that Pikmin 3 made it to the WiiU. As it turned out, Pikmin was relatively well-received among people who were already buying other Nintendo first-party titles. I suppose that Captain Olimar's inclusion in Super Smash Brothers Brawl allowed him to be introduced to a few more people, and Nintendo followed up with revised Wii versions of Pikmin 1 and 2 to take advantage of the Wii's control scheme.

On the WiiU, there's even an interesting control scheme that takes good advantage of the Game Pad controller and its touchscreen controls.

If you're right handed.

They worked out a control scheme that involves the two left triggers, the left analog stick, and the d-pad, used in conjunction with the stylus in the right hand. It has a lot of functionality, but no option to mirror the controls to the other side. If you still have your Wii controllers, which I did, you can use a Wiimote and a Nunchuck controller and control the game identically to the Wii Play Control versions of Pikmin 1 and Pikmin 2.

The map on the Game Pad works better if you don't need glasses at all, or if you need glasses for everything. I don't really need glasses to read with, but I need glasses for distance. It's not like I could just push my glasses down my nose and look down at the Game Pad. However, once I started using the Wiimote + Nunchuck controls, I put the Game Pad back in its cradle so I could look down at the map and have it be approximately the same distance away from me as the TV is.

I'm going to have a hard time explaining this to my ophthalmologist.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Squirrel! -or- How long does it take to set up a new console?

So I feel like I've been sidetracked a little. (Squirrel!) My intention of late was to try to play some of the hidden hits of the PS3 before they all disappeared, but now that school is out my attention has been turned to the WiiU.

I actually purchased a WiiU (Nintendo's next console after the Wii) weeks ago, knowing that I wouldn't be allowed to set it up until after school was out. The details from yesterday were a little tedious, I tried to summarize a little while still giving a sense of the timeframe.

  • 7AM - Download the WiiU transfer tool onto the Wii. Play it cool for a while because my younger child doesn't know we have a WiiU yet.
  • 10AM - Charge the gamepad in the older son's room without the younger son noticing. The biggest difference between the Wii and the WiiU is the gamepad. Sure, the WiiU finally has HD graphics now, but you don't notice that as much as holding a controller with a 852x480 6.2" touchscreen in the middle of it.
  • 2:30PM - finally start hooking things up in the living room, and tell younger child what's up.
  • 3PM - still setting things up. User accounts, the player characters called Mii's, etc.
  • 3:30 PM - Still downloading a system update.
  • 4PM  - configuring an SD card for the data transfer from the Wii.
  • 4:30 PM - The second SD card has failed to communicate with the Wii.
  • 4:45 PM - The third SD card has failed, and I'm giving up on retrieving the Wii data for now.
  • 5PM - start the download for Hyrule Historia
  • 5:15PM - Start playing NintendoLand while Wind Waker downloads in the background.
  • 9PM - after older son is done playing Wind Waker, I tell him to put in Pikmin 3, just to see if it has to do an update, even though he's not interested in playing Pikmin 3.
  • 12:30AM - tell older son to stop playing Pikmin 3 and go to bed.