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King9999 Blog

Goodbye, Ryan Davis.

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Gaming journalism, and the industry in general, lost a great person.

Giant Bomb recently reported that Ryan Davis, co-founder of Giant Bomb and former GameSpotter, has died. The cause is not yet known, but that's besides the point. I don't have much to say as I didn't know Ryan personally, and there are people far more qualified to talk about his life, but I saw the type of person he was through his work and through his interactions with his colleagues.

The best thing I can say about Ryan is that he had no off button. That much is clear when you first see him on video, or even if you followed him on Twitter. I mean, just one look at this video would tell anyone that this dude is crazy. But his antics made people laugh, and proved he clearly loved life. I don't think I've ever seen an angry or sad Ryan Davis. He just seemed like a happy dude, and that's what made me a fan of his. 

That's all I wanted to say about Ryan. RIP man, and I hope your next life is as great as the one you've left behind.

A Couple of Rants About Fighting Games

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Fighting games have been around for decades. We all know that the genre's popularity surged after the release of Street Fighter II, and we also know that a hugely successful game usually results in a flood of clones riding on said game's success. After a somewhat dry period, fighting games returned in a big way with the release of Street Fighter IV, and other fighting games soon followed.

 

OK, so you know all this, right? Yet, for some reason, I can't shake this feeling I have towards the genre and the community that I love so much. There's always something exciting happening in the fighting game community (FGC) around the world, yet I can't just walk up to a random gamer and talk about strategies because chances are they haven't played the game I'm talking about. Basically, I want more people to play fighting games and enjoy them for what they are. Many people are just content to mash buttons (or use the dreaded play for fun excusemore on that later), and that's sad.

 

What follows next is just some rants I wanted to get off my chest.

 

This is Why Fighting Games Are So Hard To Commit To

Like any competitive game, you must put in a considerable amount of time in fighting games to be decent at them against human opponents. Fighting games are supposed to epitomize easy to learn, hard to master, yet the easy to learn part still evades most developers. To me, the solution always seemed straightforward: just teach the player how to play and how to utilize the combat mechanics. However, most developers are still content to give you the standard fend-for-yourself training mode and maybe a mission mode where you must perform strict, difficult combos that might not really be efficient in real matches. Even worse, there might be special control settings that don't do anything except insult the player's intelligence or limit the player's options.

 

So that's one of the reasons why I think some people don't really play fighting games for a long period of time. Another reason is that some people play the games for single player content, but I really think that's not a good enough reason to play a fighting game, and I'll explain why. The main component of a fighting game is the combat, and nothing else. For that reason, good developers focus on player retention, and won't sacrifice versus play to satisfy those who aren't going to stick around long enough to appreciate the combat system to its fullest. That's why most fighting games based on popular manga aren't very good; they're made for fans of the property before they're made for fans of fighting games. While that makes sense on paper, in the end such developers are only doing themselves a disservice by making a substandard game (this could also be the result of executive meddling, but that's another issue). There are some exceptions, such as Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3, and Bleach: Dark Souls. Good fighting games are built to be played potentially for years; very few are played for decades. I love good single-player content, but I don't want it to come at the expense of solid combat mechanics, especially in a genre where the whole point is competitive play.

 

Playing For Fun, and Fighting With Honour

I have some advice for those of you who like to use that I play for fun excuse when they lose to a better player: don't. You want to know an undeniable truth? Those guys you keep losing to? They're playing for fun too! I'm not sure how many people have realized this, but we are often unwilling competitors in the game called life. We must compete at everything, against an opponent that's always changing. When you're job-hunting, you're competing against invisible people who want the same job as you. When you're catching a train, you're competing against the clock. I like to view fighting games as a less harsh version of life, where a loss doesn't result in something terrible. Maybe missing that train would result in you losing your job, thus being unable to pay your rent or feed your family. Fighting games don't have such consequences, which is one of the reasons why they're fun to play. Knowing that, I don't understand the attitudes of some online players (and only online players, it should be noted), and how they use I play for fun both as an excuse and as a way to insult the player they lost to. That kind defeatist attitude is often used when a player can't overcome an obstacle. I also like those players who claim that the winner has no honour. Well, did the winner cheat? The moment you start making up excuses, the opponent is no longer the guy who beat you, but yourself.

 

I'll be honest here. As a Virtua Fighter player, I hate Jacky players who abuse his somersault. It does huge damage on a counterhit and it's easy to perform. Although I hate the move, it's also easy to defeat since it's very unsafe, allowing a free combo. See the difference in attitude? You might dislike a strategy that's often used, but it's on you to find a way to beat it, not for the opponent to stop using it because you keep losing to it. The player's objective in a competitive game is to win. The time you take to complain about a strategy could be better spent looking up how to defeat it.

 

These Kids Are Playing, So We Must Be Doing Something Right

The players who complain about unbeatable tactics look even more foolish when you consider that the FGC has young kids competing in tournaments. You might have heard about Noah, the eight-year-old player who quickly gained popularity at Evolution 2011 for competing in Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 at an early age. Noah competed in NorCal Regionals 2013 that took place this past weekend. One of his opponents was someone who was a similar age. Over in Europe, there's a player named Wawa, a 10-year old who defeated several players in King of Fighters XIII. There are probably even more up-and-coming young players that we don't know about. We probably playedand lost to--some of them online.

 

I love the FGC, and hope that it continues to grow despite the grievances I and many other people have about the community or the games. The online players and the stream monsters are by no means indicative of the community as a whole, and becoming a member is extremely easy. Simply show up to local events, or contribute something like combo videos or guides. That's all there is to it. It's so easy, even a kid can do it! In fact, they have...so what's your excuse?

Give EA a Break.

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The infamous publisher we know as Electronic Arts has (unsurprisingly) made headlines again, for all the wrong reasons.  EA has been hated for so long, it's getting harder to remember that they used to be a respectable company.  Despite our various grievances, however, I say leave them alone.

Before you start sending angry comments, hear me out.  From birth, most humans are taught to learn from their mistakes.  Making mistakes is how we grow and shape our character, and the lessons we learn can be passed on to the next generation.  The same can be said of EA, except other companies need to learn from EA's missteps, and avoid those pitfalls lest they too want to be reviled.  Here is what I think we can learn from EA's past and present mistakes:

1.  Don't get too big. 

From what I've observed of current publishers, the bigger you get, the more unrecognizable you become.  Kind of an ironic statement, don't you think?  Traditionally, having a large business is seen as a sign of progress, but the reality is that when you become a multinational corporation, you identify with your consumers less and less.  Employees become more expendable.  The business becomes more about pleasing the shareholders rather than creating great products.

What can other companies learn from EA's mistake?  Don't grow so large that your loyal fans don't know who you are anymore.  Atlus has been around for decades, but because of how they do business, they've maintained a small-mid size.  And thanks to that, they pay more attention to their tightly-knit fanbase.  If they adopted EA's practices, they would cease to exist.  They can't afford to make EA's mistakes.

2. Don't get bought out.

I'm cheating a bit here.  It's not a mistake for EA to attempt to buy out a studio; it's a mistake if the studio accepts the offer.  If you were an independent developer that made a string of hit games, ask yourself this: is it worthwhile to get bought out by someone like EA?  Ask someone who worked at Westwood or Bullfrog for their opinion.  Now, it is still possible for some studios to thrive under new ownership (Naughty Dog is a great example), but at the end of the day, you no longer have creative freedom, and the IPs you created are no longer yours.  Even worse, those IPs you owned may never get used again.  Or, they will, but not in a way you would approve of had you still been running the show.

Read this for some inspiring words from a studio that values their work and their ownership of said work.

3. Don't underestimate demand.

Many times, I've seen launches for persistent online games not go as planned due to server issues.  Perhaps I'm just not knowledgable enough on the subject, but wouldn't it make sense to have redundant servers for the (often likely) event that the servers can't handle all the traffic?  Diablo 3's launch was the same way; Blizzard should have anticipated that the demand for a game like D3 was going to be huge.

If you cook food for a bunch of guests, it's always better to make more food than necessary, rather than risk not making enough.  Publishers and developers should be the same way with online games.  If you think you have enough capacity, chances are you need more.  Especially if your game is highly anticipated!  Have a contingency plan in case things go sour.

The above points are just some examples of what we can learn from EA's blunders.  While they're not the only company to make them, they are the ones putting out fires more than any other publisher.  Hating on EA is a pastime that isn't going to fade away anytime soon, as long as they remain as they are.  But I think we should let them be, and allow them to keep making the mistakes they've been making.  EA serves as a great example of how not to operate if you want to be respected in this industry among your consumers, peers, and employees.  EA has an important role to play--not a desirable one, mind you, but an important one all the same.

The Cease and Desist: Opportunity Killer?

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Not too long ago, GameSpot had an article showcasing an unlikely fighting game called My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic. I knew about this game long before GameSpot featured it, but I thought that getting exposure from a major website was a huge boon.  Who would have thought that a fighting game about ponies would make it on the front page of one of the biggest video game sites in the world?  In the article, there's a quote from Mane6 team member Jay Wright: "Hasbro has been very supportive of the creativity in the fan community, in all aspects. Plus, I think it helps that we're developing a game that would otherwise not exist at all."

Today, I discovered that Hasbro sent a cease & desist letter to Mane6.  What happened to the support?

Let me set things straight before I continue: Hasbro is completely within their rights to stop any and all content that infringe on their IP, whether it was intentional, non-intentional, for profit, or for non-profit.  I'm not writing to complain about the C&D.  I'm writing to question whether a C&D is an appropriate response when there could be an opportunity to generate more interest towards a brand.

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My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic.


Fan-made games getting a C&D is nothing new.  Highly anticipated games get shut down all the time.  Let's look at two popular fan games that got shut down, and I'll try to explain why it was a missed opportunity for the IP owners.

Streets of Rage Remake 

Streets of Rage Remake is a remake of the famous Sega Genesis brawler series.  The game was created by Bomber Games, a team based in Spain.  SORR keeps the same basic story, where the goal is to take down Mr. X and his empire. But the remake includes remixed music, branching paths, new cutscenes, the return of Adam, and various game modes, such as volleyball (complete with the first stage music from Super Adventure Island!).  The game also let you change certain mechanics; so if you prefer, say, SOR3's combo system instead of SOR2's, the option is present.  You can see for yourself how much work and content went into creating SORR.  Soon after Bomber Games completed the project, Sega sent their C&D letter.  The only way to experience SORR now is if someone downloaded the game before it got taken down.  If you know someone with the game, please check it out because the team did some amazing things with the series.

 

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Streets of Rage Remake.  An awesome game...if you can find it.

I wonder if there's anyone internally at Sega who played SORR in its entirety and thought "this is really good work!"  When I learned of the C&D, I was baffled as to how a company can just shut something down without giving it a second thought.  I'm no expert on law, but could Sega not have worked with Bomber Games to produce something official, instead of removing it from existence?  I'm sure that Sega is aware that there are fans of their old IP; SORR is proof that, if Sega took the time, they might be able to turn interest into dollars. I would've paid for something like SORR, at least.

Chrono Resurrection

The termination of this game is well-known.  I'm sure there are some people in a corner of the world who hate Square Enix to this day for handing out a C&D.  I don't think I have to explain where Square Enix went wrong here.  Oh wait...I just did.

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Don't count on the current Square Enix to release a CT remake...or even a new Chrono game.


Like I said, you have to wonder if anyone not from the legal department saw what fans were making and thought, "wow, this is some good work.  I wonder if we could do something with this..."  I feel that handing out a C&D isn't always appropriate, even though it's entirely a company's right to do so.  Thankfully, there are some companies who let things slide; there are numerous Mario games that can be found if you look hard enough.  One game in particular, Super Mario Bros. Crossover, is notable for having properties from multiple NES games, wide open for anyone to see.  And then there's Mega Man, where you can practically stumble on a random 8-bit fan game.  Actually, I'm glad I brought up Mega Man, because Capcom deserves mention for something they did that more companies should consider before handing out a C&D: endorsing a fan game.

Street Fighter x Mega Man: An Example Of An Alternative To The C&D 

It's easy for a Mega Man fan like myself to get excited for a promising MM fan game, and SFxMM was no exception.  But what surprised me was Capcom's active interest in the game.  Normally, Capcom just turns a blind eye to the millions of MM fan games out there (I plan to make one myself!).  I'd be surprised if they sent a C&D for any of them.  But here we have a fan game that was endorsed by a company who could have easily shut down this game, but instead promoted it as part of their 25th Mega Man anniversary and released it as a free downloadable game.

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We know they're watching us make these games...why not leverage the interest they generate? 

Now, imagine what Sega or Square Enix could have done with the games that they shut down.  They could have made a similar gesture and promoted SORR and Chrono Resurrection, giving their respective brands more awareness, and possibly generate active demand for a new game.  That new demand would then turn into dollars.  Capcom stressed that they wanted everyone to download SFxMM directly from their site instead of downloading it once and sharing the game with friends.  Can you guess why?

Your Fans Love What You Do.  Why Punish Their Expressions Of Love?

Going back to the MLP situation, it's kind of hard to believe now that Hasbro is supporting fan works when they decided to shut down Fighting is Magic.  A common thread among C&Ds--and what bothers me most about them--is the timing in which they're sent.  Hasbro knew about this game long before GameSpot featured it, so why did they wait until now to halt the project?  I doubt they're planning on making a fighting game, but it's a safe bet that Fighting is Magic at least brought brand awareness to a community who would not have looked at MLP otherwise.  Reports within the community suggest that Mane6 had a hit on their hands; even some of the show's voice actors played the game and were excited.  Instead of running with the excitement (or "hype," as it's called in the fighting game community), Hasbro's legal team killed it.  As I said before, I'm not a law expert, so maybe there's more to the issue than what I know, but from where I'm sitting, it doesn't make sense to stamp out potential gold mines, especially when there's no malicious intent.

Allow me to re-introduce myself...

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My name is Mike "King9999" Murray, and I am a video game designer.

It took a long time (over 10 years), but I can finally say that with confidence. I published my first game last week, and I'm feeling pretty damn good right now! Completing my first game was a major turning point for me. I feel like I can do pretty much anything; creating a video game is a lot of work, especially when you're doing it solo. I hope that my first game sells well, but even if it doesn't, I'm happy and proud that I released it. Getting a game out there is extremely important.

If you are thinking about creating games, here is my advice:

  • Discipline yourself. If you can't stay focused, the game won't get done. The late Steve Jobs said that "real artists ship."
  • Get involved in the community. There are a lot of indie circles making small games that are making waves. Go to game jams and participate. Get on Twitter and follow people/companies relevant to the industry, both big and small. I use Twitter solely for industry-related news and events, and I usually tweet about what I'm doing if it's related to game development. I know people who received job offers through Twitter!
  • If you're thinking about enrolling in a game development/design course at college/university, research the courses that they offer. I went to college for game design, and it was great because they always kept their ear to the ground and stayed up to date on standard practices and current events. In other words, you learn the tools that the industry uses, and you always stay informed of any gaming-related events that you might be interested in.
  • Love what you do. The only reason I made it where I am now is because I love video games, and will not apologize for it. It doesn't matter if you've never done computer programming; you can learn, and get good at it. Sites like Codecademy and Stack Overflow exist for people who don't know how to code.

I hope this helps out anyone who's thinking about making games, but don't know how. I'm really excited about my future now that my first game is done. I have a repository full of game ideas that I constantly update, and there are a few that I'm dying to make, because I'm sure they would be a hit. However, they are long-term games and they would require a team if I want to make them, but they're some of the ideas I'm most excited about turning into reality. I know that I haven't been updating this blog very much, but I thought I should update now because of recent events. I feel like my life is finally on the right track!


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Fan Expo 2010

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Fan Expo 2010 took place in Toronto, Canada this past weekend. It was my first time going, and I had a great time. The convention centre wasso packed, that at one point security locked the place down because it was overcrowded. Other than that issue, everything else was excellent. There were a lot of celebrities at the expo, but sadly the best I could do with most of them was take their picture from a distance. The lineups to get their autographs was crazy long, and for certain people in attendance (like Stan Lee), you had to pay to get their autograph. Judging fromhow huge the lineups were though, fans had no problem with it. Apparently, only the voice actors gave free autographs.

I took a lot of pics, which can be viewed here. I'd post the pics in this blog directly, but because dealing with HTML code on GameSpot is so user-unfriendly, I've decided to link to another website instead. I had a lot of fun at Fan Expo, and will definitely go next year!

Can't Stop Playing Dragon Quest IX

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This game is crazy with the content. No wonder people spent so much time playing this game. DQ9 is offically the game I've spent the longest time playing. To date, I've been playing for over 150 hours and counting!

One of the things I like about DQ9 is how it handles the post game. The story continues on after the final boss is defeated, so you can witness what life is like after the world is saved. DQ8 did the same thing too, but it's something that isn't very common in RPGs. I appreciate that the devs took the time to do a proper post-game instead of sending the player back to the last save point and unlocking the content from there. It's almost like getting two games in one!

Puzzle Quest 2: My New Addiction

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I picked up Puzzle Quest 2 for the DS the other day, a game that I've been anticipating for some time now. I've put several hours into it, so here are my impressions of the game so far.

First off, the art: it's pretty bad. Most of the human characters look creepy, especially Gess, who's supposed to be a little girl. The avatars that you can choose to represent your hero aren't any better; some of the female classes look...not female. The first class I went with is the male Sorcerer, who has--get this--a mullet mohawk. Isn't that insane? Fortunately, the monster art is much better, and I can't wait to see what the late-game monsters look like.

Enough about the art--time to talk about the game. PQ2 is definitely more like PQ1 than Galactrix, but overall the match-three gameplay is much improved in the sequel. One of the major issues with PQ1's combat was that the battles went on too long, due to:

1) The general lack of skulls, which was the primary method of dealing direct damage;

2) The low damage the skulls did in the late game (each skull always did 1 damage);

3) The fact that some classes just could not deal a lot of direct damage with their spells, and had to rely on those skulls.

PQ2 fixed the pacing by making spells generally deal more damage. While skulls are still in the game, there are usually more of them on the board at any given time, so you can deal damage more often. But the best way to deal direct damage now is with the new Action Gems. Match enough of those, and they will grant you the ability to strike with an equipped weapon, dealing much more damage than you ever could with just skulls.

Instead of a large world map, PQ2 plays more like a Diablo-ish game. There's only one town in the game, and you do a lot of dungeon crawling. There's even a loot system, complete with prefixes for gear (I haven't figured it all out yet). I actually prefer the dungeon crawl rather than the massive world map. It just feels right for a Puzzle Quest game.

I want to talk about the technical side of things for a bit. PQ1 on the DS is a fun game, but the presentation was sloppy. Anyone whoever matched four or five gems will know what I'm talking about. I'm happy to report that that particular issue is fixed. The lag that plagued the board in the first game is also gone for the most part; it's not quite as smooth at it could be, but it's definitely more tolerable now. The DS game also seemed to have some bugs, but I have yet to find any in PQ2.

So far, PQ2 has me hooked. Once I beat the game, I'm gonna try one of the other classes. The Sorcerer seems to be a strong class, so a beginner shouldn't have any problems starting out with it (just be wary of the low HP and how fast battles can end now). I spent about 100+ hours between the DS, PC, and iPhone version of PQ1 (with the majority of that time spent on the DS), so I expect to do the same with PQ2. I can't wait for the PC version and the ability to make mods!

How Not To Write a Review

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I'm sitting here, looking for reviews for the upcoming game Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. I find one, read it, and discover that a good chunk of it talks about plot details--something that I don't want to know. Why do people who get paid for writing material feel the need to spoil the game for the readers who are interested in purchasing a game? You kind of defeat the purpose of buying a game if you're going to spoil it for everyone else. People who write reviews need to take a closer look at what they're writing. It's even worse with video reviews, where you can actually see what's taking place. No thanks.

I know I'm not alone in my thoughts. All video games websites need some sort of ground rules for their staff; something to the effect of marking reviews for potential spoilers, or removing spoilers outright. There is no reason to give plot details in a review, ever. If a story is exceptionally good or bad, there are ways to convey the message without actually giving things away.

The interesting thing about these websites is that they will moderate their forums for spoilers; they can enforce rules on their readers, but how about enforcing those same rules on their editors? Do some sort of quality check before publishing a review, and revise it if it contains too much plot details. I shouldn't have to avoid reading or watching reviews for fear of having the game spoiled for me. It's not right.

Writing Reviews

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So here I am, reading my old reviews, and I asked myself: why did I stop? It's not like I got tired of writing them, especially since people read them and even rated them. I think I'm gonna have to start writing again. The question is, which game should I review?

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