Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Street Fighter V, still in progress, Part 2.

The next characters to be announced in Capcom's Street Fighter V were everybody's favorite English commando, Cammy, and a big ugly bouncer named Birdie that we haven't seen since the Street Fighter Alpha games.

Cammy shows off most of the moves we've come to expect from her, and Birdie looks like he's gotten a substantial tune-up that may or may not include some ingestion of hot sauce. (Did you see the fire coming out of his mouth?)

After that, Capcom announced longtime series regular and Ryu's friendly rival Ken Masters.

Some people complained about the new hairstyle, (it looks bananas?) and some people weren't sure why a game that's supposed to show greater differentiation between characters had Ken in it at all. But, I think it would be hard to take him out at this point since their rivalry is one of the main story points of the game, and they have done a great job of gradually differentiating the characters in the past. Their mission to not have a lot of characters just be clones of each other has just allowed them to be more daring in their changes with Ken.

The next character that Capcom revealed is the first fully new character, Necalli.

Necalli has big crazy hair, attacks that can penetrate through the ground, a command throw, and not much of a command of English. We don't really know anything about his backstory yet, but he doesn't exactly seem like one of the good guys.

Now about the game itself - Capcom has done a great job in having a Beta for people that have pre-ordered the game. The best part about it, in my opinion, is that one of the first times that the servers were running an early version of the Beta, it wasn't running up to par. The servers couldn't handle the load at the time, and they had to try again in a couple of days. Polygon talks about it here. Why is that such a big deal? It's a big deal because you want it to fail early, under somewhat real-world conditions, instead of failing the week the game officially releases with all of the characters running and a lot of people being disappointed. Capcom has dissappointed a lot of fans by having questionable netcode (the parts of the program responsible for the networking aspects of the game) in some of the game modes of the PC version of Street Fighter IV and it's never fully been resolved, only worked around. If it's a game that's primarily being played online, the game will live or die by its netcode and Capcom is really going to have to make it great, especially with this new endeavor of increasing the size of the player base by funneling PS4 and PC users into one pool of players.

For those of you thinking about the PC version on Steam, check out the system requirements on the Steam page - just keep scrolling down to the end there.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Street Fighter V, still in progress.

It's been a while since Street Fighter V was first announced, and it's been nearly as long since I talked about it. There's still a long way to go before the game is officially released, but I'm really pleased about how transparent Capcom is being about the game and the steps they're taking to make sure that they have a successful release.

The first thing that people would need to know is that Street Fighter V is only coming out for Playstation 4 and PC. Sony deliberately partnered with Capcom to do this, which both helps sales of the PS4 over the XBoxOne, but it is also helping with unifying the online player base. For the first time, all of the people playing this game will be able to play each other. Street Fighter IV had three separate player bases - XBox360, PS3, and PC(Steam). By removing the XBoxOne from the equation, because there would be no practical way to get Sony and Microsoft to allow any sort of cross-system play, it becomes possible for Steam users and Playstation Network players to play against each other for Street Fighter V. As the competitive fighting game scene grows, it becomes helpful and important to unify the player base in this way.

When the game was first announced, all we had was Ryu and Chun-Li. Ryu is Street Fighter. He was the original character that you played as in the original Street Fighter, when there wasn't even a number after the title yet. Chun Li is a fan favorite from Street Fighter II, and has been in the majority of the games that followed. A scary version of Charlie Nash and a rather familiar looking M. Bison followed next.

M. Bison seems familiar enough to people who played him in the other games he appears in.

Charlie has changed a lot from the Guile clone that he used to be in the Alpha series. Sporting some aftermarket repairs, which I guess he needed because we thought that he had died in a previous game, he now has some tricky teleport moves and more ways to confuse his opponents.

While this is a good start, obviously there need to be more characters, (and there are) but I thought that it was great that Capcom was gradually adding them in during the development process as a way to tune the game mechanics.  They've probably been doing this all along, but this is the first time that Capcom has done a Beta program this big and has shown the game this much prior to release.

Next time, we'll discuss the Beta in more detail and show off the next four characters.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Of Kombat woes.

So, say you're a really established video game developer, but you know you don't have time to do everything, so you try to find other studios to help you get product out the door faster. You have to pick partners that understand what you want, and can deliver the product in a way that your fans expect. Sometimes the partners work alongside the developer, like Dimps with Capcom during the Street Fighter IV series. Sometimes you have to hand off most of the responsibility to the partner, like Capcom letting Ninja Theory make a version of Devil May Cry in an effort to reboot the series. In other cases, like the Call of Duty series, there are a stable of developers all working on different games in the series concurrently so that the release schedule can go smoothly. Activision had started out with just Infinity Ward working on projects, then added Treyarch, and then added Sledgehammer Games, along with a whole bunch of other secondary partners. And sometimes, you just get a second developer just to help out with certain facets of the game that they're particularly good at like letting them work on character models or artwork while you're busy working on the story and the game engine. Kazuma Kaneko of Atlus has a long history of doing work for Capcom and Konami just because he's good at character design.

Alternately, some developers are happy to never give release dates because they would prefer to ship a game, as Id software's John Carmack famously proclaims, "When it's done".

Knowing the variety of scenarios that have worked out for the gaming industry, and knowing some of more spectacular failures of the industry, unforeseen stuff will still happen. It's not like people are planning to fail (unless, you're like, Uwe Boll) but at a certain point you would think that you would know what was going on. The current round of mishaps are in the fighting game arena.

Mortal Kombat X is Netherrealm Studio's second chance at a second good game. Back when Ed Boon and the gang worked for Midway, Mortal Kombat was a standout fighting game for a really big reason - it wasn't Street Fighter II. Many of the other fighting games out at the time were too much like Street Fighter II, although not good enough to be any sort of a threat. Midway took a different approach with different controls, different stylistic influences, a different graphical style, and a more menacing tone.When Midway came out with Mortal Kombat II, it was better in so many ways that made it the definitive version. Even after many lukewarm and overdone versions of Mortal Kombat and lackluster spinoff games, this was still the team that stayed together after Midway became part of Warner Brothers since they were doing a lot of the arcade games for Midway and a fair number of console ports.

The progression of the games amounted to this - after the success of II, they made Mortal Kombat III and two revisions referred to as Ultimate and Trilogy, where all three games continuing their basic strategy of filming/photographic actors in costume and using that to build a series of 2D sprites which were then animated. Typical of fighting games of the time, the rosters increased to include more and more characters.

When fighting games like Namco's Tekken (1994) and Soul Edge (1995) came out with 3D character models and backgrounds, Midway followed suit with Mortal Kombat 4(1997), and its Dreamcast version with an updated roster, Mortal Kombat Gold(1998). Mortal Kombat 4 was the last arcade iteration, but not the last Mortal Kombat with 3D gameplay.

The home console games that followed, Deadly Alliance(2002), Deception(2004), and Armageddon(2006), all had increasingly complex levels of 3D interaction and movement, and multiple fighting styles for each character. While I found the storyline interesting, and they added extensive story mode content in the games, I never found them as fun to play as the earlier games. By the time I got to Armageddon, I was really missing my Nintendo 64 version of MK4.

When they jumped to the next generation of consoles (PS3/Xbox360), instead of releasing the same game over again, they took a detour into the superhero genre and made MK vs DC Universe(2008). It did allow for some interesting mechanics that made it more fun than some of the other 3D games, but the 3D nature of the game did still make some things oddly difficult. This was a stepping stone for two things - one, it got them working with the Unreal Engine which helped them streamline some of their development, and two, it got them to rethink what they could do with the characters in a new game environment. Influenced by Street Fighter's return on the scene, using 3d character models in a fighting arena constrained to 2D, the new reboot simply named Mortal Kombat (2011) was able to make the game both more playable and visually appealing. It had finally made a game on par with the early games.

When Mortal Kombat X was announced, scheduled for an April 2015 release, it was a great opportunity to take all of the things that they got right in the 2011 release and refine them. In essence, it was a second chance to make a game as great as Mortal Kombat II. Having announced the game for both the PS3/XBox 360 machines as well as PC and PS4/Xbox One, it could have been a very large release reaching the widest possible audience.

Except it wasn't.

The PS4 and XBoxOne versions released on time, with Netherrealm at the helm. High Voltage Software was in charge of the PC version, along with the XBox 360 and PS3 ports. The PC version released on time, with a few hiccups in the first day or two having to do with how the game loaded in Steam, and the XBox 360 and PS3 versions were pushed back to "Summer 2015".

And then they were pushed back again to fall or possibly the end of the year.

And then, when everybody in the southeast was busy worrying about the track of Tropical Storm Erika, Warner Brothers Interactive quietly pulled the plug on the PS3 and XBox360 versions. Not a big press release, just a quiet little message on their community page.

So, I wandered down to Gamestop, and took the path of least resistance and got some store credit for what I put down on the preorder. Part of me wanted to get the PS4 version but somehow get Warner Brothers to cough up a way to redeem Goro that I lost out on by the failure of my PS3 preorder, but they've already released a lot of other DLC characters and I'm now inclined to just wait and see if they release another disk later with everything on it. I've already realized that if I want to play Tekken 7 or Street Fighter V I will have to move on to the next system, and I think I even knew that back in April when I thought that I was going to be able to get MKX for PS3.  At this point, I'm in no hurry to catch back up with Mortal Kombat, and I know that my kids actually enjoy Tekken and Street Fighter and I could actually play those with them.

Next time (hopefully soon) I will talk about Street Fighter V, and the exciting things that Capcom is doing right with the game.