Sunday, July 25, 2010

X Vs Y

I had read that Capcom were already planning another fighting game after the forthcoming Marvel vs Capcom 3, but there was no indication as to what it was. However, at Comic-Con this week, Capcom and Namco have announced two joint games, Street Fighter X Tekken and Tekken X Street Fighter, making true a long-rumoured Namco vs Capcom game. Essentially, Capcom's game will be a 2D fighter based on the Super Street Fighter IV engine, and Namco's will be a 3D fighter using the Tekken 6 engine. Both will feature characters from the Street Fighter and Tekken series.

This is a terrible idea, the sort of thing that would excite people who write crossover fan-fiction, and the less said about that the better. Story is never a strong point in fighting games, but it does help if they're at least thematically consistent (which is why the unavoidable Star Wars characters in Soul Calibur IV greatly detracted from the game in my opinion). The games are also mechanically incompatible, 2D and 3D fighters are very different types of games, things like projectiles, anti-air, gauge specials are not common in 3D fighters, which have more of a focus on strings, evasion and the ground game.

I'd actually be quite interested in a 2D Tekken, as Namco have far better character design than Capcom (as iconic as it is, the Street Fighter cast is a bit rubbish - that's why there's such a problem with "shoto-spam", most people don''t want to play anyone but Ryu and Ken), and I do enjoy 2D fighters. I don't think I'd be that keen on a 3D Street Fighter, I have bad memories of the awful Street Fighter EX series. The cross-over, however, holds very little interest to me.

What is really sad, though, is that the two companies with the most success in fighting games, are both releasing a cross-over when the fighting genre is so starved of new games. Just look at what's on the market: Tekken 6 (7th game in the series), Soul Calibur 4 (5th game in the series), Virtua Fighter 5, Street Fighter 4 (probably between the 7th and the 15th, depending on how you count the versions), King of Fighters 12, the new Mortal Kombat will be something like the 9th in the series. Those are some big numbers. Even a newcomer like BlazBlue is only there because Arc lost the license to their own Guilty Gear games, and the similarities between BlazBlue and Guilty Gear are very evident. I'm not saying that sequels are a bad thing, the fighting genre benefits from an incremental approach because it is more about mechanics than narrative, but a little new blood wouldn't hurt.

Could you imagine if after Halo: Reach and Gears of War 3 Bungie and Epic decided to get together to make Halo vs Gears of War (because those two games have about as much in common as Street Fighter and Tekken do)? Instead, they'll (belatedly) move onto some new IP, with both companies probably continuing to make shooters, but they won't be forced to look back on themselves like the fighting genre seems to have to.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Game Room

A few months back, Microsoft released Game Room, its attempt to provide a centralised point for retrogaming on the Xbox. Those of us who have had a connected Xbox for a while may remember that Xbox Live Arcade releases used to consist mainly of overpriced retrogames, before it shifted to its current focus on downloadable and indie titles. It wasn't a particularly good idea, and sadly, Game Room isn't much better.

For the umpteenth time, I am a big fan of retrogaming. For the PS2, I own copies of both Capcom classics collections, both Taito Legends compilations and the Activision Anthology, as well as the Sega Genesis Ultimate Collection and Namco Museum for the Xbox 360. In addition to frequenting arcades in my youth, I had an Atari 2600 while growing up, and my cousins had an Intellivision system, so I am familiar with all the systems being emulated. I am without a doubt the target market for this, yet it has yet to tempt me into making a purchase.

There are certainly things which Game Room does well. The idea for a single point of entry for old games rather than having them compete for space with other XBLA titles in your games library is a good one. Letting you design your own arcade, around which your friends' avatars wander, is quite neat, the emulation seems technically competent, and the addition of a Sands of Time style rewind feature is a great idea to allow those of us made soft by modern gaming to be able to get somewhere in the brutally unforgiving, often hopelessly unbalanced games of old.

However, Game Room shoots itself in the foot in several ways, the worst of which is the pricing model. Microsoft wants 240MSP (a little under R24 at current exchange rates) per game, or 400MSP (R40 or so) if you want to be able to play the game on PC or Xbox 360, which is far too much for such simple old games. It does allow you one free 10 minute game on each title, but the problem with retrogames is that, aside from a few classics, a lot of the time you only want to play them once or twice to remember what games used to be like and then try another title. This is why compilations work so well - when you are getting 30+ games for R150, it really doesn't matter if many of them have aged terribly, you can have a go at them, get your hit of nostalgia and then move on. You don't feel like you've wasted money on a poor game because within the context of the compilation, they all add to the experience, rather than having to justify a price by themselves. Being Xbox download titles, Game Room games won't discount over time, either. And where there is a game that was released as a standalone XBLA title in the past (Time Pilot and Scramble are the only two I'm aware of), they expect people to buy it again if they want to play it in Game Room. How hard would it have been to send people who purchased it originally an unlock code?

The choice of games isn't that great at the moment, either. While it does have some seminal games from the dawn of arcades (which was before even my time), such as Lunar Lander, Asteroids and Battlezone, a lot of the other games seem pretty random, and not really the best examples of classic gaming. I've discovered a lot of games I'd never seen or heard of which I quite enjoyed while playing various retro compilations, but after downloading seven game packs worth of titles for Game Room, there has yet to be a title that I thought hard about purchasing after the demo game. Maybe they plan to expand into later arcade eras (the late 80s or early 90s, perhaps) at a later stage, and with that will come more recognisable games.

You can visit friends' arcades, but to play the games they have bought costs virtual tokens (which you earn when other people visit your arcade), and this counts as demo play so it's limited to 10 minutes and your scores aren't saved for your friends to try and beat unless you have purchased the game yourself, so this feature, which could have mitigated the cost to an extent, doesn't really work very well.

I wonder then, if I'm not that taken with it, who is? I don't believe it has been a great success for Microsoft, but some people must be buying the games. I see each week on Major Nelson's LIVE activity charts that Game Room titles purchased usually collectively rank somewhere around 10th on the XBLA chart. I have no idea how many sales that actually is, but it is worth noting that all Game Room titles combined (at 240MSP each) are invariably below Castle Crashers on the chart, which costs 1200MSP and has been out for two years. In fairness, though, Castle Crashers is awesome.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Not being a World of Warcraft player, I have not been following the Blizzard RealID controversy very closely, but the furore has been such that it has been impossible to ignore. I read that Blizzard have now backtracked on their stance, but not fully. Anonymity seems to be one of the founding principles of internet interaction, and while it is the root cause of much of the undesirable behaviour on the internet, I can certainly understand why in many cases it needs to stay that way.

I read this comment on Metafilter, linked from Penny Arcade, and I have to say I found it a bit shocking. The assertion that every female player will be harassed and many of them will fear physical confrontation if it is made easier to e-stalk them would seem like scaremongering overreaction if it weren't for the scores of follow-up responses pleading with people not to belittle the problem.

I know WoW has more players than the population of many small countries, and that with such a broad spectrum of humanity online you are bound to get a fair number of maladjusted miscreants, but it is a pretty sad indictment of online game players that harassment and abuse seem almost guaranteed.

As is visible on the right hand side of the blog, I currently use my full real name as my Gamertag on Xbox Live (and Games for Windows Live, as they use the same tag). I set it up at a time where I couldn't be bothered with all the hiding behind aliases that happens on the internet, and I haven't got around to changing it. Every time I play online my name is available to the people I play against, which has never really concerned me before. It no doubt helps that I don't play any MMOs - even if I were to really piss someone off, the transience of the games I play would mean it wouldn't be worth their while to really try and grief me, they'd probably never come across me again. I have had a few insulting messages typed at me in Dawn of War 2, with one person even feeling the need to send a swearword-filled rant to me on Live after a game, but it really didn't bother me. It would probably be different if I knew I was probably going to be sharing the game with that person most of the times I wanted to play.

Trying to bring bit of accountability to people's interactions in a game is certainly a worthwhile goal; unfortunately, Blizzard's attempt with the RealID system does not appear to be a workable way of achieving it.