I wanted to finish writing my review of Persona 4 while it’s still fresh in my mind but for some reason, my motivation to to do so is very low. Most people knows that it’s a great game, so I feel like I’m beating a dead horse by reaffirming that sentiment. Honestly, I’d rather talk about what I did over the last couple of weekends. Granted, there’s only so much I can talk about but it’s a lot easier to write up and hopefully, a lot shorter.
The weekend before last, a lot of my good buddies gathered at my house to play some videogames. It’s nothing out of the ordinary and I don’t mind it most of the time since I don’t have to go out of my way to drive to their houses (which usually takes at least half an hour). The main game of the night was Street Fighter 4 with a little bit of four player Phantasy Star Portable and some Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. I particpated in all of the multiplayer games except for TvC. I have never played TvC and hold no interest in playing it as long as I don’t own a Wii that can read region 2 dvds and games. Nothing really exciting happens in PSP and unfortunately, it’ll probably stay that way forever. In Street Fighter 4, my Abel loses to most people. It’s one thing to play against friends who only play fighters casually. You can usually go in there and exploit every mistakes they make and breathe a sigh of relief every time they miss their opportunity to go for a killing blow. It’s another thing when you’re playing against people who understand the concept of minimizing their risks, the art of zoning and how to take advantage of every opportunity that opens up. My frustration about this game is that unless I can perform complex moves, links and combos consistently, I won’t be able to access the real game where better tactics and mind games will dominate the matches. Instead, I get killed by a fireball because my EX anti-air throw came out instead of my ultra. I did manage win one match against a really good Ryu, so at least I know that I’m getting better. But even with all the losing, it was still fun and that’s all I care about.
Once we done with Street Fighter 4 and the majority of my friends left my house, I decided to play a little bit of Quake Live. Quake Live is pretty much Quake 3 Arena except you play it on your web browser of choice. There are some small notable changes to the game in order to make it more balanced (railgun no longer does 100 damage and has been toned down to 80 damage) but overall, the fundamental gameplay remains the same. It’s a no-holds-barred first person shooter where the winner is determined by the amount of kills he/she gets. I know that sounds like a “no shit, sherlock” kind of statement but believe it or not, there’s a lot of first persons shooters out nowadays that don’t have the same “kill the most dudes” objective like Quake Live does. The game itself is very fast paced and aside from the shotgun, there are no random shots at all. The game is still currently in beta, so obviously there’s going to be few bumps here and there. As far I know, there are no significant technical bugs or issues that I have a problem with.
The matchmaking system on the other hand is absolutely terrible. It’s Warcraft 3 matchmaking all over again except it’s three times worse. When Warcraft 3 was first released, there was a lot of time where you’d be matched up with somebody who is significantly skilled enough to destroy you in a matter of 5-8 minutes. And the worst part of the system? WC3 didn’t even hide it from you. Before you enter the actual game, you can just look at your opponent’s name on the loading screen for one second and you will know if you actually stand a chance. A level 7 player versus a level 28 player isn’t exactly a fair matchup. Quake Live is like that where you can play a couple of games and depending on how you play, you’ll be placed in the appropriate tiers that matches your playstyle. You have a choice of servers and depending on what type of people are playing in there, the server will automatically adjust the server tier. Unfortunately, every server has at least one or two people with 10 years of Quake 3 experience under their belt and the rest will just be above average. It took me a good 5 or so games for me to adjust but it’s still frustrating. And that’s just Free for All mode. Team Deathmatch is even worse with one side always dominating the other side. And you can forget about dueling mode unless you’re really really good. Dueling is pretty much an exclusive mode reserved for only the toughest elitist and if you go in unprepared, don’t be surprised if you end the match with negative frags.
Despite the matchmaking system, Quake 3 Arena was a very solid game when it came out over ten years ago and remains that way today. I remember when I was still in high school, Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament came out at the same time. There was a lot of debate on which game was better. Being the Quake fanboy that I am, I really wanted to believe that Quake 3 was better than Unreal Tournament but UT just had a lot more variety and fun weapons. Believe me, it was very hard to ignore. On the surface, Unreal Tournament seemed like it was the better game. UT had more interesting weapons and each of them had an alternate fire. Q3A only had generic FPS weapons with no alternate fire. UT had more modes to play with like CTF, Assault, Domination, Last Man Standing, Team Deathmatch. Q3A only had Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and a CTF with only 4 maps to play on. The graphics looked slightly better on UT than Q3A. The only thing Q3A had going for it was that it had more variety in its models. It’s pretty obvious which game was better and every gaming website except Gamespy agreed that UT was the better game. Ten years later, nobody is playing UT anymore but Q3A still has a very active competitive scene. Like I said, on the surface, UT is the better game but when you finally go deep into it, Q3A wins no contest. It’s the same reason why people still play Starcraft and stopped playing Dawn of War. Like it or not, Starcraft is a much much better game than the Dawn of War series will ever aspire to be. I love Dawn of War but it will never be able to stand the test of time like Starcraft does. It’s because the design of the game focused on balancing these two points: Depth and Balance.
I’m not going to go into depth and balance since you can read up a better explanation than what I would have given on David Sirlin’s blog. Now, I’m not saying UT isn’t deep enough. I’m just saying that Q3A did it better. The weapons in UT were really great but what made Q3A’s weapons better was that they were all pretty well balanced. As long as you’re in the right position and have the skills to use them, there is always a chance for you to take down your opponent with any weapon other than the gauntlet. Even better, being able to juggle and use each weapons at the right time in the right situation will allow you to dominate. In UT, it felt like there was always that one weapon that slightly beats out every other weapon. Kind of like a tier list people put up for fighters. There’s nothing wrong with this in my opinion since it’s pretty normal for first person shooters to do this but like I said, Q3A did it better. The design and layouts of the maps in Q3A were a lot better than the ones you’ll find in UT. I can count a large amount of memorable maps that I had fun playing on in Q3A while I can only name one map from UT that stands out to me (Morpheus). Also, it probably didn’t help that UT was running off of an improved Unreal engine, which meant that a lot of people with nVidia cards would need a special patch in order to run it (Glide heh).
Of course, if you have a stupid enough and large enough fanbase, I suppose it really doesn’t matter if the game is terrible (i.e. Super Smash Brother series). I don’t think I’ll even bother commenting on that. That’s pretty much about it. By the way, it took me a couple of weeks to write this article up and I think because of that, I’m pretty much done with writing articles that contain more than 800 words. My articles tend to fall apart the more words I type anyways. It’s sort of like playing Jenga except replace the blocks with words.
I did promise I’d have a whole rant prepared about characters. Well, here it is.
What it feels like a lot of other developers do is try to make all of their characters meet a certain standard of viability. So if Character A absolutely stomps the floor with Character B, they’ll make some attempt to even the scales. Sometimes they’ll nerf A, and sometimes they’ll buff B. During this process it’s possible to introduces a bug, an infinite, anything unintentional really, that throws that character out of sync with the rest of the cast. I would imagine these things often happen. You can theorycraft as much as you wish, but when you actually go in and make the changes anything can happen. Eventually this back-and-forth game reaches a semblance of equilibrium and you ship it. Or you run out of time during development and your game is unbalanced as hell; such is life.
Capcom releases a game, let’s say Street Fighter 4, in arcades, and gets a ton of feedback. They release an update for the game; update the roster, move properties, all that jazz. A real meaty patch. Finally if you’re, say, a Vega player, or an El Fuerte player, or maybe even a C. Viper player, you can hope. You can pray that Capcom has recognized the comically pathetic status of these characters and has made a few tweaks that will improve them. You’re not looking for top-tier powerhouses, you just anticipate your opponents watching El Fuerte run around like a psychopath during battle and laughing in fear.
Then Capcom asks to borrow your shirt and shits in it. Just shits all up in it. Balls it up, uses a clean scrap of sleeve to wipe their collective asshole and then hands it back to you. “Here’s your patch you retardedly hopeful motherfucker,” they say to you. They got sick of your positive outlook, your optimistic forum posts. When they saw your smug, ugly-ass face after you won against a Ryu one guy literally snapped his pencil in half.
This is because there are some characters the design team likes, and some it hates. And guess what? They hate your character. Hate your character. Not just because you play him/her/it, but that definitely helps because guess what they also hate you.
The point I am laboriously arriving at is that Capcom does not try to make its characters equal because Capcom does not want its characters to be equal. As a fighting game fan, one who never really got into other Capcom fighters, it seems very strange. Look, for example, at the tier lists for the past three Guilty Gear XX iterations. You may notice a surprisingly high degree of fluctuation between versions, even of characters no one thought redeemable (hello Zappa how are you doing down there). Do you know what this tells me? This tells me Arc Systems is trying.
Now look at the tier lists for Street Fighter 4’s lifecycle so far. A few people move up, a few people move down, but almost all remain in their designated tier zones. Finding a glass ceiling in fighting games is depressing, honestly. If you played a shitty character before (excluding Viper; I have a feeling her being that low was a real mistake), that character is still shitty. They had almost a year to change it, and they didn’t. There’s no way that’s an oversight.
Take my personal example. I really like Cammy. Cammy in SF4 is shit. I wouldn’t mind too much if A) there was hope that Capcom will elevate her in the future, or B) there were other characters I wanted to play. Unfortunately, the chances Capcom will improve her seem remarkably slim; none of her moves are safe, her command inputs have been re-complicated to Super Turbo levels (while others, like Sagat’s Tiger Knee, have been simplified), and the properties of those moves have been tuned way, way down. It took me a while to admit, but there are way too many problems to ignore; this was a blatant act of setting a character at the bottom of the barrel. Which is what Capcom does, and I suppose I can’t get too mad at it. What I can get mad at is the character designs. They’re shit, let’s not dance around it. Let us all just say it straight out, it’s bracing. They are shit. Chun-Li, Crimson Viper, Abel, Rufus, Seth – Seth! The guy looks like a gray Gumby extra – I could go on, but the truth is the old characters look worse than they ever have. The new characters just look bad. And bland, my God do some of them look bland. El Fuerte is a small wrestler with a Luche Libre mask on; I’d have thought we’d seen the cliche enough in the past that someone would add something to make him stand out. Oh, they did, a frying pan in his intro. Guess the team wanted to leave work early that day. In the end, none of these characters make me want to play them. At best I’m indifferent, and I really don’t want to be the ten-thousandth Ken or Ryu player.
I usually don’t pay much attention to tier lists, since I’ll never reach the level of competition where they come into play too heavily. I’ve always played Dizzy in GGXX, and she’s never been very good, but I really like the character and I like her playstyle. But when I’ve been playing a game for a week and I’m noticing crippling problems with a character (Hooligan Throw, in addition to requiring an EX bar to be worth anything, can’t grab ducking characters? Really?) something is seriously amiss. Well balanced? Maybe, but don’t tell Vega or he might suicide.
He’s been having problems at home.