Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Going the Extra Meter

My first fighting games were all 3d, and they followed the traditional rules of 3d fighters: no hit-pauses, no crouching blocks against mids, and no super meters. I didn't give supers a second thought-- I figured they were just another move, which meant little considering 3d fighters had easily 10 to 20 times the move set as their 2d brethren.

After a year of analyzing competitive fighting games at a high level, I am now of the opinion that the super meter is the single most ingenious, elegant addition to the genre since character variety.

First of all, super moves not only add to a player's arsenal, but affect all the non-super moves and abilities as well. Let's consider the Ryu vs Blanka matchup in Street Fighter 4:

No-meter Ryu vs. No-meter Blanka
  • Ryu's fireball is SAFE against Blanka outside slide range
  • Ryu's uppercut very UNSAFE against blocking Blanka
  • Blanka's horizontal ball is SAFE against blocking Ryu
Half-meter Ryu vs Half-meter Blanka
  • Ryu's fireball now UNSAFE against charged Blanka (threat of EX-Ball)
  • Ryu's uppercut now SAFE against blocking Blanka (via FADC)
  • Blanka's horizontal ball still SAFE
Full-meter Ryu vs Full-meter Blanka
  • Ryu's fireball still UNSAFE against charged Blanka
  • Ryu's uppercut still SAFE against blocking Blanka
  • Blanka's horizontal ball now UNSAFE to blocking Ryu (punishable with Super)
The addition of the super meter in Street Fighter 4 dynamically changes the relationships of the existing moves, creating an ebb and flow of the match as these meters are built and burned. Compare this to a traditional 3d fighter, in which every move has the same level of safety (i.e. risk) regardless of who has the upper hand in the match, or how long the match has run.

Meter changes the dynamic of the match enough that it presents a new metagame: to be in control of the super meters is to be in control of the match. This presents meaningful choices to be made other than the basic objective of "Deplete the opponent's vitality," presenting far more options to the player in a given situation.

On Offense:
  • Sacrifice combo damage to save meter?
  • Sacrifice offensive pressure to bait meter usage from opponent?
On Defense:
  • Sacrifice ability to block to whiff moves and build meter?
  • Sacrifice meter (i.e. offensive capability) to avoid damage?
  • Use meter to recover from mistakes?
  • Intentionally allow opponent to win a round by using meter in order to have meter advantage the following round?
Through this metagame, super meters create a context around every decision made during the match. Obviously, a player's available options in a given situation are limited by how much meter he has, but the real beauty of this design is that his available options next time he is forced to make a choice are affected by his original decision.

Compare this to a 3d fighting game, where the player has every option available to him at all times. In a 2d fighter, the options available to a player change considering what he had done earlier in the round, and what he plans to do later on. Rather than a string of unrelated puzzles, a fight that involves meter must be thought of as different parts of the same story, complete with the arc of a beginning, middle, and end (translating here to "learn opponent, anticipate opponent, and kill opponent"). Giving "guess" situations this level of context is exactly what makes high level play meaningful.

At the end of the day, modern fighting games really are just fast-paced games of rock/paper/scissors. The role of super meters is to redefine what rock, paper, and scissors all mean within the context of the match, in addition to giving more meaning to the guessing game itself.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Genius of the Barrel Roll

It's no surprise that Afterburner Climax features a barrel roll. Sega has lived its entire life in Nintendo's shadow, and even though Afterburner easily predates Starfox, everyone that looks at a plane-based rail shooter is going to suggest that the player hit Z or R twice.

Like any younger brother with a minority complex, Sega tries to do all the same things as Nintendo, but faster and cooler and more awesome. With Afterburner Climax's buttery smooth gameplay and killer graphics, Sega was halfway there-- but how would they possibly improve upon the one-liner that burned Arwings into our entire generation's subconscious?

Let me count the ways:

1. Vantage Point

The player camera rolls along with the player, spinning the entire world upside down for a moment. This is initially extremely disorienting for the player and really works to drive the point home that barrel rolls are a big deal. No one is going to just be chaining roll after roll together idly to stay invulnerable like in Starfox-- barrel rolls are a maneuver to be respected.

This also takes advantage of the extraordinary visuals in the game.

1. Control

Instead of a dedicated roll control, Afterburner Climax uses a strange way to trigger the barrel roll: while fully banked in one direction, roll in the other. This creates a much more analog feel to the flight control, giving new players something interesting to learn rather than another button to memorize.

The first time a player plays this game, he will accidentally trigger a barrel roll. Marrying the control of the aiming with the control of defensive maneuvers in such a way is genius, as the player will learn to carefully decide between offensively and defensively moving the plane.

2. Longevity

With new players, there is no need to teach them an additional control for defense. They'll accidentally trigger the control and then freak out in delight when the world around them spins in a circle. Totally awesome!

As they get better at the game, they will begin to notice that their ability to aim is restricted in some way because certain stick motions will induce an uncontrollable roll. They will begin to nto push the control stick to the outer extreme, introducing a layer of gentle finesse so rare in a blazing fast game like this.

Eventually, the most awesome players will start going after medals like killing X number of enemy aircraft while rolling, creating a new metagame of high risk, high reward gameplay reserved only for masters of the game.

Do a barrel roll! (Press Z or R twice!)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Mastermind

Every year or so I like to look over this again, and I'm shocked to see how true it is every damned time. Lime for truth, salmon for lies:

To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of "definiteness", of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. When it comes to their own areas of expertise -- and INTJs can have several -- they will be able to tell you almost immediately whether or not they can help you, and if so, how. INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don't know.

INTJs are perfectionists, with a seemingly endless capacity for improving upon anything that takes their interest. What prevents them from becoming chronically bogged down in this pursuit of perfection is the pragmatism so characteristic of the type: INTJs apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion "Does it work?" to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms. This in turn produces an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake.

INTJs are known as the "Systems Builders" of the types, perhaps in part because they possess the unusual trait combination of imagination and reliability. Whatever system an INTJ happens to be working on is for them the equivalent of a moral cause to an INFJ; both perfectionism and disregard for authority may come into play, as INTJs can be unsparing of both themselves and the others on the project. Anyone considered to be "slacking," including superiors, will lose their respect -- and will generally be made aware of this; INTJs have also been known to take it upon themselves to implement critical decisions without consulting their supervisors or co-workers. On the other hand, they do tend to be scrupulous and even-handed about recognizing the individual contributions that have gone into a project, and have a gift for seizing opportunities which others might not even notice.

In the broadest terms, what INTJs "do" tends to be what they "know". Typical INTJ career choices are in the sciences and engineering, but they can be found wherever a combination of intellect and incisiveness are required (e.g., law, some areas of academia). INTJs can rise to management positions when they are willing to invest time in marketing their abilities as well as enhancing them, and (whether for the sake of ambition or the desire for privacy) many also find it useful to learn to simulate some degree of surface conformism in order to mask their inherent unconventionality.

Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel. While they are capable of caring deeply for others (usually a select few), and are willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship, the knowledge and self-confidence that make them so successful in other areas can suddenly abandon or mislead them in interpersonal situations.

This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. :-) This sometimes results in a peculiar naivete', paralleling that of many Fs -- only instead of expecting inexhaustible affection and empathy from a romantic relationship, the INTJ will expect inexhaustible reasonability and directness.

Probably the strongest INTJ assets in the interpersonal area are their intuitive abilities and their willingness to "work at" a relationship. Although as Ts they do not always have the kind of natural empathy that many Fs do, the Intuitive function can often act as a good substitute by synthesizing the probable meanings behind such things as tone of voice, turn of phrase, and facial expression. This ability can then be honed and directed by consistent, repeated efforts to understand and support those they care about, and those relationships which ultimately do become established with an INTJ tend to be characterized by their robustness, stability, and good communications.


Many people say to "just be yourself," but I'm a firm believer that I am in charge of who "yourself" is. Continued existence is continual change-- so might as well take control over it, right? I refuse to resign the content of my character to a set of generalities written about an entire group of the human process.

The delicious irony is that the INTJ archetype describes my attitude perfectly.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

If I Were In Charge of SSF4

Note: After discussing some of these points with Seth, he informed me of the pull and push process of getting changes into the game. You can't have everything!

Game System:
  • Different animations and effects for chip death and for focus death (not enough remaining health to focus) for more immediate feedback of "why did I just die?" and less confusion.
  • Alternate "Reversal" message given for wakeup focus attacks and reversal backdashes to encourage players to learning more advanced tactics such as backdash punishing OS's.
  • Reversals don't need to break focus. I've tried to focus a couple too many reversal upballs and headbutts... it's a very strange rule seemingly to created to discourage charging focus as okizeme, which is a bad idea already for plenty of other reasons.

  • Change the button configuration screen to something that doesn't take 10 years, and also to something that Japanese players can come to America and understand.
  • Allow for choosing of character and color BEFORE a match is set up in Championship mode a la VF-- it's blind pick anyway, right? Cut down on the few times of accidental Abel / Ryu selection because of one too many mashed A inputs. Of course, Ultra selection is offered after the matchup is revealed.
  • More context-sensitive playback of rival music, instead of ALWAYS playing P2 characters' music every time:
  • In Versus, play after one player has a win streak of 5 at least
  • In Championship Mode, play during championship match (each player hears his opponents' music)

Chun Li:

Medium kicks-- Currently, back+MK is the target combo starter, neutral MK is the AA, and toward+MK is the stepkick. Any change to this would really be great:
  • If the TC kick and the stepkick were switched, Chun would be able to move forward while maintaining back charge.
  • If the TC kick and the AA were switched, Chun would be able to AA long-range Rufus dives and immediately pressure with fireballs while he's resetting.
Stomp kicks-- Currently, only down+MK activates stomps, whereas d/b+ or d/f+MK does not. This is to allow Chun players to jump in from range with the very long-reaching j.mk while maintaining both down and backcharge. However, this is sort of a pain in the butt.
  • If stomps were were activated with both down+ and d/f+MK, they'd be much more reliable for use in combos while j.mk would still be usable while maintaining charge with d/b.

Jus' sayin'.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Jacket Juice

So thanks to the one whole US Dollar discount, I decided to take a risk and hit up Jamba Juice's new Five Fruit Frenzy smoothie. At the time of this writing, I am halfway finished with the Original (20 oz) smoothie.

"Five Fruit Frenzy" is an absolutely perfect name for this product. The initial taste is nearly overwhelming-- the loudest note here is "tart", but there is more than enough sweet to smooth the experience over for those that don't want to pucker up after every sip. There is so much going on that it could be a little confusing, and the sip is down the hatch before every element can be thoroughly enjoyed, inviting the user to try to brave the frenzy of flavor once again.

The textures of this smoothie are as varied as the flavors. Presumably by using whole fruit rather than juice, the Jamba engineers behind the FFF preserve more than just the flavor-- including strawberry seeds and sweetness-soaked, smashed bits of banana. Once again, there is plenty going on here, perhaps too much for the less adventurous type.

Personally, my go-to selection at Jamyba is the classic Banana Berry, since I like my smoothies like I like my women: predictable, easy to handle, and with consistent level of resistance. But for those of you that like the taste of flavors that bite back, the Five Fruit Frenzy is just like Fierce Feint Fierce-- absolutely stunning.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to Push My Buttons

Although everyone seems to dismiss it as an archaic way to interface with a game, the act of pushing a button can really be explored to create satisfying play.

A digital (read: not analog) button has 2 states: on and off. Most every game only considers the act of toggling the button from its off state to its on state (referred to as the Positive Edge of input), but some (usually Japanese) games put a strong emphasis on the lifting of the button as well (the Negative Edge).

In Bayonetta in particular, every attack in the game is separated into two halves: an attack on the way out, and on the way in. These halves are assigned to the Positive Edge and Negative Edge respectively-- if a player so chooses, he can leave his attack "out" longer to deal extra damage, at the risk of spending more time vulnerable to a hit from behind. Through this mechanic, a single press of a digital button has an analog level of risk and reward associated with it, adjustable given the player's style and situation in-game.

The result is that each button press becomes two decisions the player is faced with: When should I press this button, and when shall I release it? Pushing a button is the simplest way to interface with a game, but it can packed full of context and tough decisions!

This solution creates a level of customization in every action the player takes, while maintaining the instant, fluid response granted from a one-dimensional input interface. The simultaneous pursuit of creativity and responsiveness has always been core to the Japanese genre of "Stylish Action Game", and is one of my favorite play mechanics in all video games.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Under Pressure

So it turns out that according to my latest reading, my blood pressure is once again riding the line between Prehypertension and Stage 1 Hypertension (the border is at 140/90). Dang.

I've been aware of this problem for some time-- starting from when my PE teacher had me take the reading 10 times in a row in disbelief, to the time I recognized the numbers on my grandmother's BP reading from her hospital bed during a diabetic emergency.

Two summers ago, I was able to get my numbers down to almost normal levels after my ridiculous regime of tennis, lifting, and HIIT-- a feat I'll probably never be able to achieve again. The only way to come close would be to remove as much sodium as possible from my diet, which is worth considering.

Turns out the UK classifies BP up to 140/90 as completely normal, whereas in the US, that's the line between prettycrap and megabad. Why is it then that the US is the one with the disgustingly disproportionate obesity issue and the long-running streak heart-related deaths year after year?
I'm not satisfied until every vein is forced up against my skin. Look how vascular I am, Brian. If there's one thing women love it's a vascular man. I've got veins. They carry my blood all over my bah-dy. That's how John Mayer would say it: "Bah-dy." I'm really into him now. You better be okay with it!
Stewie Griffin