Sunday, March 27, 2011

Today is the beginning

of the 3D revolution.  North American retailers are going to have the Nintendo 3DS handheld game system for sale starting today!  While I am not one of the people that will be buying one today, I feel oddly compelled to go watch the carnage.  Also, I'd really like to see the 3D for myself if possible.

I think this may have repurcussions in some of the big box stores - it might actually hurt their 3D TV sales a little, as some customers knowing that this new technology is now available will wait for it to trickle up to larger screens instead of dealing with glasses.  I will be listening for store employees that make odd comments about that, also.

Viva la 3D Revolution!

P.S. My older son is _really_ going to bug me for Okamiden if we go out to the store to look.  I can hardly blame him.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

New Street Fighter Characters! + News from the Kiosk.

New Street Fighter Characters!
Well not really new, but how on earth would I know? Thanks to the sad state of the American arcade, it would take quite a bit of driving to get to an arcade where I could play Super Street Fighter 4 instead of just down to my local mall or movie theater - and I haven't been to the movies in months, so if they had put in a SSF4 machine I still wouldn't know.

In December of last year, an Arcade Edition of Super Street Fighter 4 was released that includes Yun and Yang from the Street Fighter III series, Evil Ryu from the Street Fighter Alpha series, and a new version of Akuma simply listed as "Oni". "Oni" loosely translates to English as "ogre" - fans of one of Capcom's other series, "Onimusha" may already be familiar with the word. I was hoping to include a link to some video - there's lots out there on Youtube, but since most of it is shot on handheld cameras it's not quite as good as some of the demo videos of the other characters that are available that are direct video feeds.  The other problem is that Capcom has been taking down some of the videos of Oni Akuma and Evil Ryu, although it's hard for me to figure out how they choose which ones to take down.  It's easy as pie to just search "Oni Akuma", and they're not all taken down, just some of them.  As of this writing, there are still plently there to see.

Yun, Yang, and Evil Ryu play largely as expected. While not 100% identical to their counterparts in previous games, it's close enough from what I am able to see.

Oni is a little different and should not be mistaken for Shin Akuma. His super moves are different, and some of his strategy has changed because of changes to his special moves. He doesn't have a 4-way teleport move like regular Akuma does, ((f,d,df or b,d,db) + (PPP or KKK)), but he does have an air dash, and a new move (d,df,f + K – strength determines distance) that moves him forward quickly with a rushing punch. The Roundhouse (Heavy Kick) version will cross up if performed close. It's no teleport, but it could get you out of a corner in a jam. It's hard to tell how safe this move is if blocked because people seem to want to show video of it connecting more than video of it being blocked. His (f,d,df +K) move has been changed from its usual diving kick guessing game to a high-hitting smash that can be used as an overhead if done as an EX move (two kick buttons instead of one, uses one level of meter).

Word is that these additional characters will be available for download for consoles at some point in the future for owners of Super Street Fighter IV. The original Street Fighter IV console version was not programmed in such a way so as to allow additional characters, but apparently Super Street Fighter IV is. Let's hope.

News from the Kiosk

I noticed something new at our local Walmart game kiosk - they had the demo version of LEGO Star Wars 3 for PS3 and for XBox360. My older son and I fired it up on both units in an attempt to see how they looked. Sadly, the XBox360 was not set up for maximum resolution and it looks rather fuzzy compared to the PS3 version. There was no way to adjust the XBox's output resolution from demo mode. I just know that the PS3's video output was set correctly because I was there the first morning that they fired up the PS3 and know that the TV was correctly set for some flavor of 1080. Sadly, the XBox360 looks like it's running in standard-def because it was only scarcely better than the Wii running Mario Sports Mix on the other side of it.

But what about Mario Sports Mix? I have played the hockey and the dodgeball parts at the kiosk. The dodgeball did not have intuitive controls, so I floundered against the computer. The hockey had great controls, so I thoroughly trounced the computer even though I started from way behind (0-3) at nearly the end of the first period. I think I finished the second period with a score of 15-5. I'm going to pass on this game unless someone else can convince me otherwise.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Emergent Gameplay

I talked with a co-worker after work the other day about bout Super Smash Bros. Brawl in comparison to other fighting games. I like to talk to him about it because he is more skilled at the game than I am, and I can gain some insights into what makes the game tick. While I am certainly no expert at Smash, I admire the straightforwardness of it. Smash Bros. takes a different kind of strategy than traditional fighting games. We digressed into talking about what makes a great game, and I think that we were both able to agree that the games that were the simplest in premise but that had lots of options as to what could happen were the most satisfying games for us. I rattled off Katamari Damacy and Tetris right away, because they are games that you can explain easily. We quickly realized that we could have easily been talking about baseball or soccer or basketball.

My co-worker suggested that American Football had no hope of ever really catching on in other countries to the degree that it has in America because its rules are too complex to easily explain and games tend to run long. Then it occurred to me that those restrictions had never stopped cricket from being spread across the globe everywhere.

Then, I got to thinking about fighting games again. Why was Street Fighter II the game that took off and not Street Fighter? Why didn't they just come out with Darkhorse vs Data East 4 starring the dudes from Karate Champ, Fighter's History, Diet Go!Go! and Tumblepop squaring off against The Mask, Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and The Goon? Aside from the fact that Data East has been defunct for several years?

It's not special moves, Street Fighter had them. (Heck - Atari's incredibly lame Pit-Fighter had 'special' moves.) There is no difference between Ryu's fireball motion in Street Fighter and Street Fighter II. You rotate the joystick from the crouch position to the direction that your character is facing, and then press one of the punch buttons. The difference is that Street Fighter II had gameplay that evolved beyond the rules that the programmers gave it. It didn't hurt that it added variety in the playable characters, and made playing against human opponents more of a focus, but the animation programming of the game led to certain things behaving in unexpected ways. In Street Fighter, if you do the motion for a fireball with correct timing, a fireball surges forth from your character's outstretched hands. If your timing is incorrect, then you only see the animation for the punch button that you pressed. In Street Fighter II, if you press the jab button (the quickest, least damaging punch) quickly while doing the fireball motion, you may see a couple of jabs come out, and then the animation of the fireball motion cancels out the animation of one of the jabs. In addition, the logic for determining if you have done the motion for a special move correctly also accepts letting go of the required button instead of just pressing it, giving you a second chance to finish the motion correctly. Many special moves in Street Fighter II can cancel the animation of some of the regular moves. Also, when an attack lands on an opponent, there is a window of time where the opponent is stunned, allowing for another move to be landed in quick succession. This is referred to as a 'combo' although it has very little to do with cheese filled pretzels or how you get your school locker open. When Street Fighter II was programmed, these combos were another unknown. Hit stun and block stun were designed for making the game feel like the programmers wanted the game to feel. The combos that emerged from it were only discovered by people actually playing the game against each other. Other annoying little things were discovered like tick throws - getting your opponent to block a normal attack and then throwing them during the time that they are stunned from blocking the attack - and other variations on exploiting stun and move canceling.

Certainly, this is not the only way you come up with emergent gameplay. Sometimes, it's just as simple as leaving a bunch of objects in an environment with known individual properties and waiting to see how those things react with each other. The Grand Theft Auto games from GTA3 on are a good example of this, because the wide variety of items and environments combined with pedestrian AI behavior, although we have seen things like this before on a smaller scale. In Adventure for the Atari 2600, the erratic behavior of the bat flying around and swapping objects can turn success into death or failure in seconds.

I would contend that unanticipated behavior can come from any sufficiently complicated system. If you have only one thing in an environment, then you have only one interaction. If you have two things in an environment, you have each thing interacting with the environment plus one more interaction of the two things interacting. Three things, six interactions. Four things, ten interactions. The number of interactions increases as the square of the number of objects.

Warning: Math Content - For x objects, the number of interactions is x squared plus x all over 2. With five objects, we take 5, multiply it by itself, (that's x squared) and get 25. Add 5 more to get 30. Divide the whole thing by two, and that's 15 interactions. For ten objects, ten squared is 100, add 10 to get 110, and divide by two to get 55. There is no danger of getting half an interaction, even though we're dividing by two at the end since we're dealing with integers (whole numbers). If x is odd, x squared is also odd, so adding them together is an even number. If x is even, x squared is even, so adding them together is still even.

For those of you that skipped the math paragraph above, suffice it to say that with more stuff comes a lot more complication. Also, remember that this math having to do with interactions technically also applies to the code used to write the game in question. If the designers of a game are looking for a finely crafted experience, they usually make an effort to play test (or get their stable of testers to play test) through most of the possible interactions both as a way to make sure the game has as few bugs as possible, and to make sure some unforeseen interaction doesn't totally break the game. The play testers also have to deal with design and difficulty elements of the game, so it's not like looking for glitches are their only emphasis. With the limits of time available to make a profitable game, this means that there is limited time to do play testing, so sometimes games will ship with bugs or glitches. Sometimes the glitches are minor, and sometimes you're up to version 1.7 and every patch description starts with "Fixes exploit where..." Now, as far as I know, the Street Fighter games haven't needed major patching - even if the game has been slightly unbalanced, we as players have managed to deal with it. In light of that, maybe Capcom needs to make a first person shooter with Hadoukens.