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AndrewP Blog

Goodbye and Good Luck

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Hi everyone. You may have noticed that GameSpot is starting to look, sound, and feel different these days. GameSpot's content group is actually being reorganized to focus more on video and to explore new directions, and as it turns out, I'm not going along for the ride. As of today, Friday the 11th, 2011, my job has been eliminated.

Up until today, I was the managing editor of GameSpot. But it began for me in January 1998, all the way back from when GameSpot was a small startup company based out of a cramped two-story San Francisco building that used to be a travel agency. For 14 years, I've been covering PC games, console games, handheld games, and game hardware through reviews, previews, newsletters, customer service, news developments, press conferences, trade shows, video shows, special features, op-ed columns, and strategy guides, among other things. During those 14 years, I never took a step back. Not in the good times, not in the bad times, and not even in the weird and scary times. To make a long story short (too late), I did everything I could to make contributions that were valuable, useful, and even crucial to the site's prosperity, its editorial integrity, and in some cases, its survival. Anyone who says otherwise either doesn't actually know anything about GameSpot, is a liar, or both.

So you may be wondering why you've never heard of me, but as a programmer might say, that's working as intended. Let me explain, and even less briefly this time.

I signed on at GameSpot at a time when anyone could get rich by buying any old stock in the market or by "doing something with the Internet." As you might expect, with people everywhere starting to get rich, they also started getting a little big for their britches. Everyone outside the game industry, and also in it, considered him/her/itself to be a genius, and proclaimed their greatness to the heavens. Game magazines and Websites scored juicy exclusive stories on upcoming games by gushing not just about the games, but also about how awesomely awesome the developers were. You know--stroke the old egos a little bit. It often worked. Then the year 2000 came along. The year of the Tech Wreck, when the bubble burst, etc.. Advertising budgets, particularly for Internet companies like ours, dried up seemingly overnight and sites like GameSpot really started feeling the pinch. With the American economy already contracting going into the following year, we then had a certain series of events happen on September 11 of 2001, which made having a job writing about video games seem trivial and petty, and also not very practical or stable, what with the stock market also tanking and everybody on the TV claiming the end times were upon us.

That's when it dawned on me...there might be something to that old saying about pride coming before the fall. I've never cared for selfishness or self-importance, but it became very clear just how many people were making it their mission to seek out the spotlight, and how there didn't seem to be enough people driven to build something that was useful or substantial. I made the conscious decision, there and then, to go the exact opposite way, to double down on what I felt was truly important: Holding myself and anyone who worked with me to a higher standard of writing, and doing whatever I could to ensure that GameSpot's content was as good as it could be. To try to help build something that actually was great, rather than stand around talking about how great I was or wasn't.

If self-aggrandizing bloggers with diarrhea at the mouth were the problem, I wanted to be part of the solution. I wanted to share the most interesting games, and the most interesting aspects of these games, with the readers of GameSpot, so that they could discover games they might otherwise have missed, and so that they might share these games--which were, you know, only for losers who live in their moms' basements--with new people, and maybe have these new people discover that video games aren't just for loser basement-dwellers. That these so-called "video games" are actually pretty cool. And the whole time, I wanted the games themselves to be front and center. I wanted the games to be the stars. Because it wasn't about me. It's never been about me.

At this point, I'd like to shift gears and comment on the current state of the game biz. You could say it has some problems right now. Publishers who produce retail products are at war with retailers who sell used games. On the one hand, several game publishers are now offering preorder "bonuses" (such as day-one DLC) that effectively penalize customers for not buying new games, while resellers continue to grow fatter and fatter by buying used/trade-in games at $20, then turning around and reselling the same used game for $40-50 and pocketing the difference. As a result, digital distribution is clearly the future, except that digital services keep getting hacked and spiraling bandwidth costs are making widespread distribution of large digital files seem increasingly untenable. (Don't take my word for it. Ask Netflix.) Or maybe the real future is in social, free-to-play, and mobile games, except that many of these games nickel-and-dime their customers to death with microtransactions that are baked directly into the actual design of the games themselves. The only common thread here is that paying customers lose. Want to get this new game? You either pay full price+ for it, or you pay slightly less for a "used" version lacking content and often with crippled online capabilities. Go social/mobile/free-to-play and enjoy a new breed of games that are specifically designed to be mind-numbing unless you pay money to make them less so.

Sadly, I don't have any good solutions to these problems off the top of my head, other than to point out that smart customers will really appreciate it when game companies present their products in a way that doesn't burden said customers with these problems. (Hint, hint game companies. Also: Hint, hint, customers.) However, if you, like me, work, or worked, in the actual game industry and have begun, like me, to wonder exactly what you've been fighting for, let me point out that there are still good people writing about and covering games, and that there are still great development houses out there looking to make games that are actually enjoyable as games, and also that the barrier to entry on actual development has never been lower for those thinking about crossing that line themselves.

I'd also like to remind my brethren (or, former brethren as it were) that even though games are increasingly being considered a "business" in the sense of being cash cows to exploit, they've actually always been a business. Your hard work, professionalism, integrity, and willingness to contribute to something that's bigger than yourself are not only what got you here--they're what made the game industry so successful, and they're what will continue to ensure that you, and games, thrive. You writers and reviewers and news reporters, you video producers, you graphic designers, you programmers, you testers, you producers, you game designers, you artists, you musicians, you sound technicians, you voice actors, you product managers, you community managers, you publicists, you Web page builders, you copyeditors...each of you is an important part of this business. And there's no shame in being part of a business, especially one that's produced so much enjoyment for so many, and for so many years.

The very best people to do business with are knowledgeable, productive, detail-oriented, solutions-focused, considerate, easy to work with, and always learning. I've met countless people who evince these great qualities and I'm sure there are many more in this industry out there that I simply haven't met. These are the qualities that will serve you in good stead, regardless of whether everyone is making tablet games now (or "freemium" online RPGs now, or big-budget first-person shooters now). These qualities are what give you real value, both as a creator and as an employee/employer. These qualities are what will give you staying power out there, even when times are tough, and when it seems like the whole world's gone crazy, and that there are no opportunities and no real hope. Regardless of whatever irrational decisions come down from on high or whatever unfair market forces try to cut you off at the knees, there will always be a place for people with your skill, creativity, talent, drive, and relentless pursuit of self-improvement.

I think I've said enough at this point, so I'll be signing off now.

Goodbye and good luck to all of you.

-Andrew

PC version of Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition UPDATED - DRM to be patched

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UPDATE 6/2/2011: According to an update on Capcom's community site, the publisher is apparently planning to patch out the offline roster restriction either at or shortly after launching the game. This is a big, big step in the right direction.

--

Were you looking forward to getting the PC version of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition? You might want to rethink your choice.

Yang and Yun will have to go on being annoying without me.
Yang and Yun will have to go on being annoying without me.

The above link goes to Capcom's community site, where the publisher confirms that the upcoming PC version of SSF4:AE will disappointingly use the notoriously problematic Games For Windows Live software for online multiplayer (rather than the superior Steamworks), and even more frustratingly--if you're not continuously connected to the Internet, you will only be able to use 15 of the game's total roster of 39 characters.

If you had planned to play AE on the go, such as on your laptop, in areas that may have spotty or no Internet, it sounds like you're basically hosed, here. It's also frankly hard not to see this as the publisher punishing customers who will actually buy the game legitimately...because you just know the offline restriction will be worked around by pirates, who will get all the benefits of a true SSF4AE experience, and won't even be out the 40 bucks.

This is frustrating to me personally both as a PC game player and as a longtime fighting game player who was probably going to finally give in and start up Street Fighter IV with AE. No such luck. I don't know about you guys, but until Capcom provides clarification (along the lines of "hey guys, actually, you WON'T be restricted to only 15 characters offline"), I won't be touching the PC version of this game with a 10-foot pole.

Bonuses in-box: Where to draw the line?

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If you hadn't seen, publisher Electronic Arts has sworn off paper manuals for all of its games going forward. I'm sure some of us (like me) will have an immediately averse, kneejerk reaction to hearing this news, along the lines of what an evil, greedy corporation EA is for screwing us out of something we should already have coming to us since we paid for it: a nice printed manual. But let's think about this for at least a second.

Falcon 4.0's original manual. Oh, baby.

Now THIS. THIS was a manual!


Aside from the fact that human beings waste tons of paper each year,most printed game manuals these days are barely worthwhile (sometimes not much other than a couple of glossy pages with a few controller or keyboard maps). They're a far, far cry from the thick tomes that used to come with the games, to say nothing of some of the outstanding extras that used to come standard.

Also, even though EA's adoption of this practice seems like big news, it's not like this is the beginning of the end. Game packaging has drastically been reduced in size over the years and with the exception of pre-order special edition versions, the most you'll get in the way of special packaging is a DVD case. Unless, of course, you pre-ordered the game, in which case, you may get a giant combat helmet. In exchange for the $70, $80, $90+ publishers are now charging for that kind of thing. To say nothing of how digital distribution portals like Steam have done away with physical media altogether and give you nothing (no disc, no box, no collectible mousepad) except a numerical key to copy-paste into the system and download your game.

Pre-ordering Halo 3's Legendary Edition got you this bad boy. Yeah, I know.
I like getting bonuses with my pre-order, but is this just a little excessive?

When I was younger, I felt a lot more strongly about bonus items being packaged along with games, but that's probably because 10-15+ years ago, getting a bunch of cool stuff inside a great, big game box was common. I'd say I miss the old collectible items, especially big, thick manuals, that used to come with games way back when, but these days, I'm just not as sure, especially considering how sorry most game manuals are. And as much as I love little velvet bags full of 20-sided dice, much of that sort of collectible junk could just as easily end up in a landfill. Part of me definitely wants to praise EA for this bold move and hopes to see other companies follow suit. But part of me secretly resents this news. Where do you stand on this?

Who's Your Main - Andrew Park

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Karate Champ | Arcade 1984| White (and/or Red)

Data East's Karate Champ was one of the earliest one-on-one fighting games as we know it--arguably the first, at least on US shores back in 1984 (followed by the addictive-but-single-player-only Yie-Ar Kung-Fu by Konami in 1985). It was a game of firsts--one of the first games to let two players challenge each other in one-on-one battles, one of the first fighting games to have bonus stages, one of the first games to hit the all-important milestone of letting you do battle with a hopping bull, and one of the first games to have one martial artist in a white gi and one in a red gi (Ryu's and Ken's respectively white and red karate gear isn't a coincidence, guys). Both characters were completely identical--the difference was mainly that white was the default character (starting a new game with no other players gave you the fighter in white). Regardless of whether you were wearing white or red, your job was to hit the almighty jump kick on your opponent as soon as possible to score a hit--the game didn't use Street Fighter's life meters, and instead worked on a tournament scoring system that would reward victorious rounds to the first fighter to score a hit…a hit that often took the form of the almighty jump kick. Karate Champ went on to influence a great many subsequent fighting games (most obviously the Commodore 64 classics Way of the Exploding Fist and the International Karate series) and, along with a certain martial arts movie from the same time period, it went on to influence yours truly to strike hard and strike fast. No mercy.

The King of Fighters '98: Dream Match Never Ends | Arcade 1998 | Terry Bogard (standard, not EX mode)

The original version of The King of Fighters '98 was known in Japan by the subtitle "Dream Match Never Ends" (and also known in the US by the subtitle "The Slugfest," and on the Dreamcast, confusingly enough, as "The King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999"). It's also considered by most Neo*Geo fans to be the single best fighting game on the platform, and as a card-carrying Neo*Geo fan and owner, I happen to share that opinion, though I do think very highly of Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves and I'll always have a soft spot for Samurai Shodown II and World Heroes Perfect. But KOF '98, as it turns out, was a culmination of the radical (but unfinished and unbalanced) changes made to the KOF formula in '96 and the improved-but-not-quite-there-yet gameplay of '97. At the time, KOF '98 offered the largest selection of playable characters in any KOF game to date (including alternate "EX" versions of certain characters you could select by pressing and holding the "start" button while choosing them), along with two very different and viable play modes ("Advanced," a more-aggressive fighting style that let your character perform forward and recovery rolls and charge multiple superattacks, and "Extra," a defense-focused fighting style that let you dodge incoming attacks and manually charge your superattack meter). And KOF '98 offered what I consider to be the best KOF version of one of my all-time favorite characters, the Lone Wolf Terry Bogard. Though he's been around since 1991's Fatal Fury, Terry has pretty much always been an offense-focused heavy-hitter, and in KOF '98, he had a sizeable arsenal of good, solid maneuvers that let him continuously move forward while constantly attacking (and constantly inching his opponent closer and closer to the corner, where the real pummeling could begin). I've always believed that fighting games are called "fighting games" for a reason. In other words, the idea is to get in there and mix it up, not cower in the corner and wait for your opponent to come to you (or "turtle," if you prefer). KOF '98 Terry's great variety of different attack moves, excellent normal attacks, powerful and quick combination attacks, and relentless ability to push forward made him a perfect fit for the way I play fighting games and usually earned him the cleanup spot on my three-man KOF '98 teams. (To clarify, I'm talking about "regular" KOF '98 Terry, not his EX version, which was also a powerful version of the character, but a lot less interesting.)

Tekken 3 (and Tag Tournament and 4 and 5 and 6) | Arcade 1996 onward | Bryan Fury (casual)

For the record, I originally chose the Tekken series for this entry because for some crazy reason, I thought no one else in these blogs was going to bother mentioning it. Anyway, this isn't even necessarily one of my best fighting games; I'm pretty much a casual Tekken player, and I have a couple of characters I find myself going back to more often than not. One of them is Bryan Fury, who I prefer for a couple of reasons--one, he was Tekken 3's replacement for Tekken 2's kickboxer Bruce Irvin (another character I messed with casually), and two, because he tends to smack his opponents around with short, impactful hits that make loud, smacking noises. I should explain. Though one of the things I really admire about the Tekken series is how offense-focused it is, primarily because the game's fast pace and multiple levels of blocking make it very difficult to "turtle" for long, one of the things I'm not as crazy about in Tekken is long, strung-out "juggles," which you start by launching your opponent skyward, then repeatedly punching and kicking your airborne foes as many times as possible before they land. Even though some of the longer juggles in some of the Tekken games are very challenging tests of timing and technical skill, I just don't care to watch people performing big, long, unblockable strings, even if I'm the one doing them. To me, the real meat of a fighting game is the strategy and skill involved in getting past an opponent's defenses, usually with a blistering offense. Exactly how you punish your opponent after crushing their guard or tricking them into making a mistake just isn't as important to me as opening them up to that opportunity first. Though it's always nice to do the most damage as possible, I don't really care all that much about the difference between a 7-hit juggle and a 9-hit juggle. (And I definitely don't have any interest in games that are all about delivering extra hits by desperately mashing away or by flapping the palm of your hand across the buttons like a washboard in a jug band.) This is why I'm not a big fan of long juggles, or of the Tekken series' wall-bounce juggles first introduced in Tekken 4. It's also why I'll probably continue to only be a casual fan of the series, and it's also probably why I keep coming back to Bryan Fury, since, although he does have some exceptionally long juggle strings, he also has several perfectly good, decently damaging follow-ups that are over in a couple of hits and usually end with a single, powerful blow that knocks my opponent into next week.

--Dishonorable Mention--

Sango Fighter | PC 1993 | Cao Cao

If you owned a game-capable PC in the 1990s and were exposed to the magic of shareware, there's a good chance you know and played this game. It's the one with the guy in the green robes fighting the muscle-man guy in the blue shirt and red scarf. At a glance, 1993's Sango Fighter for the PC seemed like it was supposed to be Taiwan-based Panda Entertainment's answer to Street Fighter II…minus any of the talent, technical skill, or art direction that went into that game. Specifically, Panda attempted to take the exciting, classic tale of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms and turn it into a full-fledged fighting game where key figures of the era, such as the fabled Five Tiger Generals under the command of Prince Liu Bei, competed for control of ancient China with the nation of Cao Wei, led by the crafty warlord Cao Cao. What we got was an incredibly goofy, clunky, simplistic fighting game where historical figures such as the legendary Marquis of Min, the cunning General Xiahou Dun, were reduced to dumpy, cackling nimrods (with annoyingly good setups to throw you across the screen). Back in the 1990s, I was used to being spoiled by the luxury of getting PC games from actual computer game stores that sold row after row of boxed computer games, so Sango Fighter ended up being one of the few PC games I purchased by mail at the time. It arrived from Panda burned onto a suspicious-looking gold CD-R disc with a flimsy, photocopied label, but the game itself was the real deal. Meaning that it was just like the shareware version, but with more characters and a single-player campaign (which forced you to play with fewer characters). The full version was otherwise still slow, still clunky, and still full of the bulgy goofball characters that eventually grew on me. Especially Sango Fighter's interpretation of the wily warlord himself, Cao Cao, whose shrill laugh and borderline unfair throw setups were clearly intended to make him a much-hated final boss. But his amazing fashion sense (ragged cape, gigantic fists, teeny-tiny crown on top of an even teenier-tinier head) and dirty throwing game quickly won me over, and soon I wasn't laughing at him, but with him. And it turns out that if you'd like to try Sango Fighter, you can get the game for free.

Andrew Park Ornament

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This blog is a part of the scavenger hunt.

Share a couple of items on your Christmas wishlist this year.
Dead Rising 2 PC
ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead PC
Civilization V DLC PC

What games will you play during the holidays?
Civilization V PC
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty PC

What are the kinds of food or drinks you must have during the holidays?
Anything edible and non-toxic

ORNAMENT HUNT ANSWER - CLUE 12

Holiday Greetings from the Game Industry

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(Click on the title of this blog to view the cards full-size.)

There was a time when it was customary for guys like me to receive a whole pile of colorful holiday cards (made out of actual paper) in the mail from our friends in the game industry. While I definitely did receive some (and many thanks to those who did send), maybe it's a sign of the times that most of the other greeting cards I've received have been digital (and again, thanks to those who sent cards, digital or otherwise). But since these cards are digital, I figured, why not share. Below are some the digital greeting cards I've received so far.

(In some cases, the actual cards came with specific people's names written on them. I've edited/cropped the images to not include the names because really, what's in a name?)

Oh, and if I don't see the rest of you guys between now and the break, have a safe and happy holiday.

Now, on to the cards:

SNK Playmore opens storefront on PSN

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As part of SNK's 20th anniversary of the Neo*Geo arcade system,

...SNK is now opening a storefront on the PlayStation Network. While it's great to see some old classics make a reappearance, I don't know if the game selection, which includes older, wartier games like Fatal Fury 1 and Art of Fighting 1, are the best choices, and the price points of $6.99 US for PSP / $8.99 US for PS3 are definitely NOT right. First, because some of these games are old and warty, and second, because a lot of these older games have already been re-released in various compilations for PS2, PSP, and other modern platforms, so the people who are already interested in classic Neo*Geo games...probably already own them. The initial game list planned for the launch is:

Fatal Fury 1
Alpha Mission II
The King of Fighters '94
Samurai Shodown 1
Baseball Stars Professional
Magician Lord
Metal Slug 1
League Bowling
Super Sidekicks 1
Art of Fighting 1

While KOF '94, Metal Slug, and Samurai Shodown are generally considered to be classics by Neo*Geo fans, the other games really don't hold up well (and those 3 games also have their own issues as well).

The official press release suggests that the games will come with some sort of bonuses. At these prices, and in keeping with the theme of the 20th anniversary of the Neo, I think it'd be good to see SNK Playmore to at least include some other bonuses with purchase, like easy-to-access DIP switch settings for people to mess with, old artbook scans, old versions of classic SNK TV commercials, and...pretty much as much stuff as they can cram in.

I'm as much of a fan of classic SNK Neo*Geo hardware and games--probably more so than anyone reading this--but even I have real problems with the prospect of paying $9 a pop for early, early SNK games that I've already re-purchased numerous times in other compilations. SNK Playmore seems to be positioning Neo*Geo games as these old-timey, ancient classics that are as much museum exhibits as they are games to play, and that got old years ago. There's a great library of latter-day Neo*Geo games, such as Blazing Star, Magical Drop 3, Money Puzzle Exchanger, The Last Blade, and others that haven't really seen the light of dayon modern consoles.

I applaud SNK Playmore's experimentation with modern console download services, putting the company's two best fighting games,Garou: Mark of the WolvesandThe King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match, on Xbox Live. What I really want to see is the company getting more proactive about re-releasing other great games, either in compilations or in multiplayer on Live or PSN. For instance, with the broad arcade history that the Neo*Geo and its games have, you could see some kind of full arcade channel with a ton of classic Neo*Geo games that play to the games' strengths, such as spectator modes (as tons of other fighting games have already done, to simulate the classic situation of watching the current match and being on deck to play against the winner), speedrun video recording and leaderboards for speedruns, and hopefully, rock-solid online co-op.

There's more that SNK Playmore could be doing to preserve/build awareness of these great games and using them as a bridge to the future for newer games like KOF XIII.

Win a free copy of Civilization V! (And watch an exclusive gameplay demo.)

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Tune in to GameSpot's Now Playing at 4PM PST Friday for your chance to win a copy of Civilization V!
Golden age is coming, guys. As is your chance to win a copy of Civilization V.

Please tune in to GameSpot's Now Playing tomorrow (Friday, September 17) at 4:00PM PSTto watch an exclusive 30-minute demonstration of the game (we'll most likely focus on modern-day combat, which hasn't been shown much to the public), and while we're using modern armor and rocket artillery to blast Montezuma back to the Stone Age where that godless savage belongs, we'll also be offering you, the viewers, a chance to win a free copy of the actual game itself.

That's right, this is your chance to get your very own copy Civilization V just for tuning in and answering on-air trivia questions pertaining to Civ 5 and to the Civ series.

Below is the 13-minute E3 demo, which may or may not whet your appetite for what's to come:

[video=6275453]

Join us tomorrow for an even longer live demonstration of new gameplay, along with your chance to win the game. See you at 4PM.

Jagged Alliance a free Web game? Bad. Jagged Alliance 2 updated? Good?

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German studio bitComposer, which apparently now owns the Jagged Alliance license, recently announced that it would create a Web-based Jagged Alliance game. Given the level of quality (or lack thereof) you'd normally expect in the average Web-based game, this wasn't exactly good news.

But now, the studio has apparently announced that it will put out a 3D remake of Jagged Alliance 2 called Reloaded:

This is potentially much better news and hopefully it'll turn out well.

Ubisoft announces Heroes VI

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As a longtime fan of the classic Heroes of Might & Magic series, I have mixed feelings on today's announcement of Heroes VI at the GamesCom event.

It's being worked on by Warhammer: Mark of Chaos developer Black Hole Games, and while that game wasn't terrible by any stretch, it was a very different game than what Heroes is supposed to be all about.

It seems like the King's Bounty games have more or less succeeded the Heroes series (more than a little ironic considering that the original King's Bounty was the predecessor to the original Heroes). It also doesn't seem clear what direction Heroes VI will go into. We'll have to wait and see.