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The King of Fighters XII thoughts

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KOF XII
The King of Fighters XII, now making early appearances in the Land of the Rising Sun.

For those who hadn't seen, The King of Fighters XII is making public appearances on the other side of the Pacific at the Amusement Machine Show 2008. Videos of the game are also starting to pop up on YouTube, beyond the original trailer from AOU.

KOF 94
KOF '94: The start of a great fighting series.

For those who aren't familiar, The King of Fighters is a series of 2D, one-on-one fighting games that started in 1994 with The King of Fighters '94. The original game offered plenty of interesting new gameplay features that combined some of the best (and arguably, some of the worst) features of the two SNK fighting series that influenced it, Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. KOF had the meter charging and taunting of Art of Fighting (the series that invented both), the knockdown attacks and the defensive attacks of Fatal Fury, plus new mechanics like stationary dodging and super jumps. Most notably, it let you play as a team of three characters (not just a single character, like in most traditional fighters), which meant more bang for your arcade buck (or quarters, or tokens).

KOF '98
KOF '98: A fighting-game classic.

Since then, there have been 11 games in the 2D series, not counting the compilations that have been released over the years (like the excellent KOF '02/'03 compilation for PS2) and "re-mixed" games like the disappointing KOF '94 Re-Bout and the very intriguing KOF '98: Ultimate Match. I consider KOF '98 to be my single favorite fighting game of all time--it's the kind of game you can sit and play for hours on end, and is rewarding in competitive play for weeks on end because of its many different characters and strategies. The series also gave rise to a mediocre 3D spinoff series known as Maximum Impact, which hasn't been all that impressive so far.

KOF Maximum Impact
KOF: Maximum Impact.

The entire series has evolved and added and subtracted different features that didn't always work well, such as dodge attacks, recovery rolling and offensive rolling, numerous types of block cancel attack, "strikers" (external characters that leap onscreen to deliver a single attack), designated "leader" characters in your team that had access to a powerful and unique "leader desperation attack," and others. KOF XII's biggest claim to fame seems to be its "redrawn" 2D graphics, which show very, very strong influence by SNK artist-turned-video-game-producer Falcoon.

Falcoon's rendition of Mai Shiranui
SNK character Mai Shiranui as interpreted by Falcoon. I've never been a big fan of the character myself.

I guess the idea is to get excited about the higher-res graphics with more frames of animation. As you can see by watching some of the gameplay videos that have started to trickle out of Japan, the character "sprites" (effectively the 2D "models" of each character" have been enlarged and either redrawn or retouched with new frames of animation. In motion, the game seems to move slightly slower than traditional KOF--you can tell the development team had to accommodate having more frames of animation to improve the game's graphical quality against having the kind of fast-paced action fans have come to expect from the series. KOF has always leaned toward speed over pretty animations, since every frame of animation counts in gameplay terms--yes, your characters are winding up to throw a punch, but won't actually connect with your opponents until they get to the actual hit frames (the actual "punching part" of their animations).

KOF XII: Galactica Phantom
KOF XII:Ralf's unblockable Galactica Phantom attack still packs a mean punch.

The influence of Falcoon's art style, which tends to favor big, bulky men (and big, voluptuous women) over thin, wispy characters is clearly visible so far from what can be seen in screenshots and videos. Ralf, the former Ikari Warrior-turned-fighting-game-character-turned-Metal-Slug-character-turned-fighting-game-character-again is absolutely huge. Seriously, he's really big now. There's a video floating around on YouTube that shows him fighting the now-tank-top-clad Leona which really shows off the size differential.

KOF XII: Preliminary character roster
KOF XII's preliminary character roster includes, from left, Terry, Kim, Ryo, Leona, Ralf, Robert, Shen Woo, Benimaru, Kyo, Ash, and Athena.

I'm reserving judgment on the character roster, which hasn't been fully revealed yet, but it's clearly leaning towards the roster of KOF 2003, which included the debut of Shen Woo (who is playable in KOF XII), the less-than-interesting hipster with spiky hair, chain belt, and the ability to slide forward and deliver a straight punch, and Ash Crimson, the new "hero" of KOF 2003, who clearly has some new moves in XII (he appears to have Orochi Shermie's old "lightning kiss" attacks, for instance), and will obviously be a very strong character to play once all is said and done. Several of my personal favorite characters, including Terry Bogard, Kim Kaphwan, Ryo Sakazaki, and Robert Garcia have also made the cut, so I guess I can't complain all that much.The game still seems to have offensive and recovery rolling, CD block cancels, and a lot of the characters' original arsenals. I'm reserving judgment until I can finally get my hands on the game myself (though I still need to get ahold of Ultimate Match first), but I'm cautiously optimistic.

Video games conclusively linked to heinous robbery

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For whatever reason, this news report makes multiple mentions of the criminals' hobby of playing games, as though the game-playing habits of the criminals are somehow relevant to the crime.

Can anyone explain why the news report went to the trouble of digging up the unrelated issue of the criminals' time spent playing games for a news story about a robbery?

Do I own Okami?

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Okami God Hand

I was just reminded today that I never got around to playing Capcom's critically acclaimed Okami for the PS2. I think I have it at home. I remember ordering some games right around that time last year, but it's all a bit hazy. It might've just been God Hand. which I know I have, for sure. I know I got...some stuff, late last year, for PS2. Did I get them both? I'll have to look tonight, but since my living area always looks like a tornado just hit it, I doubt I'll find it. If I even have it.

DirectX 10 screenshots of Company of Heroes

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DirectX 10 is finally here (sort of). Take a look at some new screenshots of Company of Heroes comparing scenes from the game in DX9 versus the same scenes rendered in DX10.

This first set of screenshots come to us provided by the game's publisher, THQ, to show off the differences in lighting and textures with DX10 turned on.

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Cube shadow mapping in DX9: (screenshot from THQ)

Cube shadow mapping in DX9

Cube shadow mapping in DX10: (screenshot from THQ)

Cube shadow mapping in DX10

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Fire and smoke effects in DX9: (screenshots from THQ)

Fire and smoke DX9 Fire and smoke DX9

Fire and smoke effects in DX10: (screenshots from THQ)

Fire and smoke DX10 Fire and smoke DX10

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DX9 grass: (screenshot from THQ)

DX9 grass

DX10 grass: (screenshot from THQ)

DX10 grass

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Night scenes in DX9: (screenshots from THQ) 

Night scene DX9 Night scene DX9

Night scenes in DX10: (screenshots from THQ)

Night scene DX10 Night scene DX10

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If you haven't downloaded the patch yet, you can get it here. Also, the official forums of the developer, Relic Entertertainment, have some notes about the patch.

This is great...and all I've done is enter my name! Thrillho.

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Bart in the new Simpsons game  Homer in the new Simpsons game 

 Homer in the new Simpsons gameQuite possibly the most obvious video game tie-in gag you could make: Itchy & Scratchy in the new Simpsons game  Another parody in the new Simpsons game

It's hard not to have mixed feelings about the newly announced game from EA based on The Simpsons. To give you some context, I'm one of those guys who thinks that the TV show used to be a top-notch, consistently entertaining comedy series that has become...something different.

The Simpsons: Hit and Run
The Simpsons: Hit and Run for PS2 / Xbox / GameCube (2003) 

As far as the game goes, it's not clear what direction it will take. The most recent Simpsons-licensed video game, The Simpsons: Hit and Run from 2003, was actually a pretty good take-off on the open-ended, driving-focused Grand Theft Auto series. The licensed games before that, well, they weren't so good. Simpsons Skateboarding from 2002 was a terrible attempt to grab hold of the already-peaking "extreme sports" trend that was created by the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series but fell flat on its face with a broken control scheme and really bad graphics. Before that came The Simpsons Road Rage from December 2001, a Crazy Taxi knock-off that had lousy control and physics, and the extremely disappointing The Simpsons Wrestling for the original PlayStation from April 2001, which had control problems, camera problems, and really, really unsatisfying gameplay. Aside from the other sparse bright spots in Simpsons video game history, the surprisingly decent The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror for the original Game Boy from March 2001, and the flawed-but-fun The Simpsons Arcade Game from Konami back in 1991, Our Favorite Family hasn't had much luck in the world of video games.

Simpsons Skateboarding
Simpsons Skateboarding for PS2 (2002)

If you've played all of the above games (I won't mention the pre-PlayStation-era games, most of which were flat-out garbage), you'll know what I'm talking about. However, you'll also know that with all the licensed Simpsons games released in the past 6 or 7 years or so, that the show's creative team has at least made an effort to contribute to the games. Every Simpsons game from Simpsons Wrestling on up has featured original voiceover from the show's actual cast, as well as numerous sight gags and in-jokes that cater directly to fans of the show, such as how the the scratchy-voiced Krusty the Clown character is the announcer in Road Rage, similar to how Crazy Taxi's scratchy-voiced Wolfman Jack impersonator. So, at the risk of editorializing and coming off biased, I'd have to say that the series' uneven history in the world of video games isn't the fault of the show's creators--from what I can tell, they seem to have at least tried to hold up their end of the bargain. According to our recent preview story, the new game will include self-conscious video game parodies, which is definitely territory that the show has explored before. I think most fans would agree that the show has successfully parodied video games (and video game-related marketing) in older episodes with bits like Video Boxing (a classic parody of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! featuring Homer- and Bart-like boxers in place of Glass Joe and Little Mac) and BoneStorm! (a not-so-subtle parody of the over-the-top advertising campaigns used for the Mortal Kombat games). As far as what this means for the new game, and how well the current writing staff will be able to handle it, I'll leave that for you to decide.

The Simpsons Wrestling
The Simpsons Wrestling for PlayStation (2001)

As far as the gameplay goes, we don't have many details yet, but whether the new project succeeds as a game will, of course, come down to execution. Working with a property as big and as popular as The Simpsons almost seems like a license to print money, so it's easy for us to get cynical about these games and assume the developers will use the license as a crutch--not really bothering to make a decent game and letting the name on the box sell the game. I really hope the team at EA doesn't fall into this trap. A Simpsons game that stays true to its source material will be appealing to the show's fans, but a Simpsons game that also plays really well could be a much, much bigger success...for everyone, not just EA.

So much for the "Justice" system

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This update isn't related to video games. It's really more to share with you, if you hadn't already heard, the story of the small-business lawsuit that's currently in progress in Washington D.C.. A courtroom judge is representing himself in a case in which he's suing for more than $60 million USD for damages relating to...a lost pair of pants which were found a week later.

Lawyers are one of the oldest targets for criticism and nasty jokes out there. As the tired old joke goes, there's only one real lawyer joke...the rest are all true stories. But the incredible abuse of the justice system that the plaintiff is committing is no joke. It's outrageous. The courtroom battle is about one greedy/insane judge up against a small business, but it's easy to see it, in principle, as a battle between the maniacal, lawsuit-fueled greed of America...and the American dream of coming to this country with nothing, starting from scratch, and working hard to build a new life. From the sound of things, the American dream is losing this one.

Old Faces

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A colleague of mine passed me a disc that contained some old photos. If you don't recognize any of them, feel free to ignore them. If they mean anything to you, enjoy.

[EDIT - Sorry for the confusion, the image links should work now.]

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