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Gaming Stories: Awesome Games Done Quick 2013

I can’t remember the last time I turned on my Xbox 360 to play video games. The backlog remains, but I haven’t made any attempts in months to clear it. Most of my play takes place on my iPad these days, and the actual experience of gaming feels very disposable these days. More than anything else, though, I seem to be spending a lot of time watching other people play. Whether it’s archived Let’s Play videos, Bazza87’s Video Game Championship Wrestling stream, or various videos on GiantBomb, my gaming experience these days seems to be composed of vicarious thrills lately.

For me, the original and purest source of vicarious gaming thrills is still the Speed Demos Archive, the repository of speedrun videos since 2004. In my previous post about the New Game Masters, I stated that the participants in the Penny Arcade Expo’s Omegathon and players like Ray “Stallion83” Cox carry the spirit of masterful play, adaptability, and comfort with all kinds of games and systems that players on Video Power and in the Nintendo World Championship Series had, but I neglected to talk about speedrunners who conquer games as quickly as possible. Their speedruns show old games like Jackal and Metroid in new ways that I would not have considered. Without speedrunners, I wouldn’t have thought about sequence-breaking in games like Super Metroid, where Power Bombs could be collected before the Grapple Beam, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, where items from all temples can be collected before finishing the first temple.

Speedrunners are perfectionists, players who patiently explore every facet of the games that they play to discover any secret that might lower their playtimes by seconds. In my experience, this can be done either through relentless experimentation achieved through playing the same game over and over or by browsing into the game’s actual code. They approach games like they’re puzzles waiting to be deconstructed, and like the players who post Let’s Play videos, they speedrun through games because they love them.

Speedrunning records confuse my eyes every time I read them, even though I’ve watched enough speedrunning videos at this point that I could understand on a basic level how they can be done. As with many other things in life, context is everything. For example, I have the achievement for completing the XBLA version of Contra in under 12 minutes. I played through the game often enough to memorize enemy placements and platform patterns. I knew when I could pick up the Spread Gun power-up and which enemies had to be fought and which could be avoided. So when I watched David Heidman, Jr.’s run of the NES version of Contra in 10 minutes and 11 seconds, I can understand on a fundamental level how he did it, which adds to my admiration of his skill and respect for his accomplishment.

From January 6 to January 12, the speedrunning community will be participating in Awesome Games Done Quick 2013, Speed Demos Archive’s charity marathon to raise funds for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Certain scheduled speedruns, such as Aftermath’s attempt to complete Darksiders in 1 hour and 50 minutes and TheEnglishMan’s attempt to complete God of War 2 in 1 hour and 40 minutes, stand out because I devoted dozens of hours to each game, and the idea of beating either game so quickly is astounding. Other scheduled speedruns, such as Mike Uyama’s attempt to complete Earnest Evans in 20 minutes, intrigue me because I haven’t played those games, and I’m willing to dedicate some time to watch others navigate through them masterfully.

So, please visit Speed Demos Archive’s site for Awesome Games Done Quick 2013, join me and watch some of the new game masters apply their craft, and donate to the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

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Rise of Nightmares–Kinect’s Most Underrated Game

If you’re an XBox 360 owner, do you have a Kinect? Maybe you bought into the hype around the Kinect when it first came out, and thought there would be a ton of games for it, so you picked it up. Maybe you just got one for Christmas. Or maybe, like me, you’re a parent who traded in the Wii and got the Kinect figuring you could have your regular gaming experiences and have some fun with the family all with one console now. In any case, there certainly hasn’t been a ton of great Kinect games since the peripheral launched, and it’s now been re-branded as more of a navigation tool and an augmentation to other games, rather than a platform for games specifically designed for it.

There have been some pretty cool games to come along for Kinect though, and one in particular I was reminded of recently. If you didn’t read Kim Wong’s House of the Dead 2 post from a couple weeks ago, you really need to, as it’s a great game and he’s got a great story to go along with it.

Anyway, Kim’s post got me thinking about Rise of Nightmares, the Kinect game that SEGA released a little over a year ago. The game was pretty much dismissed by critics, and never really got a lot of coverage. That’s a shame, because it was a blast to play, and anyone who has a Kinect and liked the HotD series should absolutely check it out. Rather than reprint the whole review that I did over on Secret Identity last year, here’s a snippet:

“Combat is where Rise of Nightmares shines. Without a weapon, you can punch and kick zombies into submission, and the Kinect does a fine job of recognizing your panicked, flailing movements. Weapons are more fun however, and there’s a lot of them in Rise of Nightmares. Pipes, machetes, throwing knives and chainsaws are some of the instruments of destruction you get to wield. Most of the weapons feel pretty unique when you use them–the pipe feels like a bludgeoning weapon, while you “guide” the chainsaw through the decaying meat of the zombies’ bodies (that never gets old).”

You can read the full review over on Secret Identity, and you can check out a couple of great trailers for Rise of Nightmares below. You can grab the game for less than $20 now, and it’s absolutely worth your time.

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Nintendo + Christmas = Joy

The Nintendo Entertainment System I received for Christmas in 1985 is, to this day, the single greatest Christmas gift I have ever gotten. I have fond memories of taking the NES to my grandparents’ house that same Christmas day, hooking the console up to the 13-inch color TV in their bedroom, and spending the day playing Super Mario Bros. while the adults engaged in their merriment downstairs.

Mind you, I was already a full-fledged gamer by that time, having spent plenty of time in arcades, as well as having poured hundreds of hours into my Atari 2600. But the NES was different. Maybe it was the fact that it came with Super Mario Bros., arguably the greatest game of all time. Maybe it was that perfect rectangular controller, whose design has never been improved upon. whatever it was, the NES cemented my budding love affair with gaming, and I’ve never looked back.

So it was with absolute joy that I watched my son enjoy his new Nintendo 3DS on Christmas day yesterday. What was even cooler was that unlike me, he did not hide himself away for the day, but rather took every opportunity to show all of his relatives the funny video he recorded of himself, the pictures he took and the music you can listen to on the 3DS. All of the things that I never bothered with on my 3DS are the things he loves most about his. We downloaded and played Photo Dojo, where we took pictures and made him a character in the game. We played Face Raiders, which also uses pics of family and friends to populate the game. We also used StreetPass to share Miis, which he thought was awesome.

Watching my son explore the 3DS gave me a new appreciation for mine, and I loved it already. He borrowed my copy of New Super Mario Bros. 2 this morning, or as he called it “the one with all the coins all over the place.” I wonder if that game will be for him was the original Super Mario Bros. was for me. Maybe not, but I now have a new Nintendo memory to add to my personal collection, and he has a lot of great gaming ahead of him.

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Postcards From the Abyss–Part 3: The Dark Knight (Artorias)

Holy cow, you guys. Soooo much has happened since the last time I posted. Remember how I said I’d spent 130 hours in Dark Souls? Make that 150 now. I have spent almost 20 hours with the new Artorias of the Abyss (minus a few for some side treks into the rest of Lordran), and I love everything about it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Last time I left off having just defeated an invader as I began my trek into the Royal Wood area. Scarecrows and Stone Guardians abound in Royal Wood, but you can avoid a good chunk of them if you’re not interested in treasure hunting. After making my way through the area, I finally arrived on the outskirts of Oolacile Township, a great hub that leads to a few different areas, kind of like the Undead Parish in Lordran. From there, you can travel down into a valley and fight a dragon, or move into the township proper by defeating Knight Artorias, which is the route I chose to take.

The story behind Knight Artorias is that he was a great hero who, along with his trusty wolf Sif, battled the forces of the Abyss, led by Manus, Father of the Abyss (more on him later) as they tried to rescue Princess Dusk of Oolacile. The task proved too much for the duo, and Artorias ended up sacrificing himself to protect Sif. He was corrupted by the Abyss, and his corrupted form is who you face as the second boss in the Artorias of the Abyss DLC.

And what a fight Artorias puts up. The first couple of times I tried to battle him myself, just to feel him out and guage his attacks. He wields a greatsword and has some attack patterns that are similar to Sif, where he spins in an arc with the blade. He throws an inky substance (the Abyss itself?) in an arc around him, and getting coated in it saps HP. Neither of those is what did me in, though. I actually got in some good licks, and thought I was managing his attacks well, when he dropped the hammer on me. Artorias can charge up his power, then leap into the air and perform either a spinning attack or a giant slash. The giant slash was the one I got caught in a few times, and it’s a killer.

After seeing the range of attacks Artorias had to offer, I summoned in an ally and we were able to take him down. The key alternating attacks so he was always distracted by one of us. There were times where he would roll right into the other one. Even with two of us, it was a tough battle, and a leaping attack almost took out my ally in one hit. We managed to survive, though, and I was able to press into Oolacile Township.

But I didn’t. Not right away, anyway.

After beating Artorias, I spent some time helping others through the battle as well. That’s the great thing about the way multiplayer works in Dark Souls. It’s like an unwritten code. There will be times in the game where you will need someone else’s help to get through a tough battle. And when you are able to summon someone into your game, it’s because they are making themselves available to be summoned. They are putting a symbol on on the ground and then waiting for someone to reach out. Sometimes you get summoned two minutes after you put your symbol down. Sometimes it’s ten minutes, or twenty, or forty, or more. That means there are times in Dark Souls when you are literally doing nothing other than waiting to see if someone needs your help.

How awesome is that? I like to think of it as being “on duty.” Whenever someone helps me through a tough boss fight, I make sure to come back to that area and see if other people need help. Sometimes I’ll grab a book and read for a couple of hours, leaving my summon sign out and my character waiting. I might only get three or four summons in that time, but that’s okay.

When I do get summoned, my character bows to the person that brought me there, and then we go to battle together. It’s a beautiful thing. There are many times when we fail, either because I died or the summoner did, and I am sent home to my world, likely never to see that other player again. But when we succeed? It’s a moment that I’ve never experienced in any other series of games.

The whole summoning aspect of multiplayer also functions as a way of grinding for souls to level up your character and gear. With my first few forays into Oolacile Township, and the Chasm of the Abyss below that area, it became clear I would need to level up some before completing those sections.

But more about that next time…

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Gaming Stories: Video Game Championship Wrestling Revisited

Little Fraud, the Corporate Champion, until he wasn’t.
A lot can happen in a month, and a lot has indeed happened in the world of Bazza87’s Video Game Championship Wrestling. Championships have changed hands, lives have been altered, surprising alliances have formed, rings have been destroyed, and, according to the chat, Half-Life 3 has been delayed again because this happened:
 

I still can’t believe Nappa hit Gabe Newell with a supersuplex and collapse the ring to win the match via TKO.

When we last checked Video Game Championship Wrestling, Nappa and Zangief were engaged in a violent feud that involved backstage fights, Link had just debuted but lost, which earned him the nickname “The Jobber of Time,” Adam Jensen had stopped Ganondorf from beating on Ezio with a steel chair, and Little Mac had just become the viewers’ most hated villain because he was perceived to have screwed Zangief, who had won an opportunity to challenge for Video Game Championship Wrestling’s Hardcore Internet All-Star Championship.

Since then, the Hardcore Internet All-Star Championship has changed hands from Ganondorf to Bowser to Adam Jensen of Deus Ex: Human Revolution fame to Kratos to Little Mac to Proto Man to Donkey Kong, who is the current champion. Ganondorf’s loss to Bowser was a particularly memorable loss: it was a rematch between Ganondorf and Bowser, and it took place in an Inferno Iron Man Match, which meant that the two characters were in a ring surrounded by fire, and the character that scored the most pinfalls or submission victories in 30 minutes would win the match. Bowser won the match 32 pinfalls to Ganondorf’s 5.

The Dark Lord fell in dramatic fashion.

Meanwhile, the tag team championship has changed hands from the Team Fortress duo of Scout and Pyro to the team of GameCenter FU, composed of the Angry Video Games Nerd and Gamecenter CX’s Shinya Arino, to The Practice, made of Dr. Wily and Dr. Eggman. Little Mac and Zangief have resolved their feud, though Little Mac was recently run over by a mysterious black sedan, as these things go in professional wrestling.

The stream remains an arresting viewing experience, even though each show takes about 3-4 hours and they’ve occurred a little more frequently than I would like. Since November 26, Bazza87 has held a show on November 27, November 28, December 5, December 9, December 12, December 14, and December 19 and a special prototype show featuring female video game characters on December 15. The shows have all been entertaining, but it’s a significant time investment, and the pace could lead to burnout on both the presenter’s and the viewers’ sides. Some of the characters seem a little stale, but Bazza87 has tried to remedy this by holding elimination matches where the loser is erased from the roster. So far, Earthbound‘s Ness and President Obama have been eliminated.

The entertainment still comes from how nonsensical even the experience of describing what takes place during these shows can be. In the last paragraph alone, I mentioned that a character from a cult favorite NES roleplaying game and the current President of the United States have been eliminated from a made-up Internet-only fan-run professional wrestling league. The levels of abstraction from reality that exist in Video Game Championship Wrestling remain the key to why this works as well as it does.

The other part of the equation comes from the spontaneity that fuels the chat during the shows and how Bazza87 has reacted to the unexpected. Indeed, some of the best moments of watching Bazza87’s Video Game Championship Wrestling has come from dealing with WWE ’13‘s various bugs and glitches. The aforementioned epic Inferno Iron Man match between Ganondorf and Bowser showed that Yukes’s AI-controlled characters have trouble with specialty matches or matches with unusual stipulations. In that match, Ganondorf insisted on trying to force Bowser to submit to painful holds, but he refused to score pinalls on Bowser. On the other hand, Bowser had no such difficulties.

Also, the feud between Little Mac and Zangief began when Zangief won his shot at the championship in a match that lasted mere seconds because the game’s AI couldn’t coordinate six characters in a Money in the Bank Match, which requires wrestlers to climb ladders to retrieve a briefcase suspended above the ring. Because the match was so brief, Bazza87 determined that the match was glitched and held a rematch later in the show, which resulted in Little Mac winning the championship shot. Bazza87 then declared that Little Mac’s victory was the official result of the match, which led the chat to declare that he was “Baz McMahon,” styling him after Vince McMahon, who would involve himself in WWE’s storylines in overt and covert ways. Bazza87 would take to this role with relish, going so far as to control Vince McMahon as the referee in a match between Little Mac and Zangief.

A third example stands out. During a tag team match between the team of Dr. Eggman, Wesker, and Vegeta and the team of Duke Nukem, Donkey Kong, and Simon Belmont, Dr. Eggman glitched and stumbled around the ring while his teammates were beaten by their opponents. It seemed like Dr. Eggman’s glitch would cost his team the match, but Wesker and Vegeta were able to eliminate Simon Belmont and Donkey Kong, which forced Duke Nukem to fight all three villains alone. To everyone’s surprise, Duke Nukem was indeed able to pin Dr. Eggman, Wesker, and Vegeta, and the chat quipped that Duke Nukem’s performance in the match almost made up for Duke Nukem Forever.

Going forward, Bazza87 faces the challenge of continuing to deal with his league’s unpredictability. The recent championship churn demonstrates how difficult it can be to create compelling professional wrestling storylines when the organizer lacks the ability to directly control the results of matches. If we take our knowledge of how the Legend of Zelda games end, I think that Bazza87 introduced Link to Video Game Championship Wrestling to eventually dethrone Ganondorf, who at the time seemed invincible because he had beaten Dr. Eggman, the Angry Video Game Nerd, Scorpion, Little Mac, Bowser, and Ezio during his reign. But Link lost to Wario in his debut match, while Ganondorf lost his title to Bowser, so that storyline had to be scrapped. By wrestling logic, Zangief should have had an opportunity to challenge and possibly dethrone Little Mac after Little Mac won the championship, but Little Mac lost in his first title defense to Proto Man. Of course, Proto Man did survive this to win his shot at the championship:

Dr. Light builds them strong.

Bazza87 also needs to contend with the lack of continuity in WWE ’13‘s tournaments. Wrestlers cannot accumulate injuries in tournaments, so they cannot reflect accurately the results of earlier matches during a tournament. For example, Proto Man did not exhibit any damage from falling off the top of the cage during his match with Gabe Newell or in the other matches during that tournament.

In a way, Bazza87’s Video Game Championship Wrestling stream is the best stress test that Yukes and THQ can have to see how WWE ’14 could improve over WWE ’13. The popularity of Bazza87’s Video Game Championship Wrestling stream, which now has increased from 150,410 viewers as of November 26 to 343,759 viewers as of December 20, demonstrates that Yukes should consider enhancing the game’s build-a-storyline and streaming capabilities. The stream also highlights areas where Yukes could and should improve the game’s AI, such as the bug where wrestlers get stuck in endless cycles of sending each other to the ropes with Irish whips or cycles of reversing each other’s pins after the 1 count. Indeed, when the hashtag “#THQuality” is popularized because of all the varied ways WWE ’13 breaks under the strain of frequent AI matches, as shown in Bazza87’s Video Game Championship Wrestling stream, I can only hope that Yukes and THQ are paying attention.

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Gaming Stories: Mega Man 3

Even robots get old. The Blue Bomber, Mega Man, celebrated his twenty-fifth existence anniversary this year, though you wouldn’t be able to tell based on Capcom’s quiet about the matter. Capcom recently discounted a digital compilation of Mega Man 1-5, 9 and 10 on the PlayStation Network in Japan, announced that it will be releasing Mega Man 1-6 on the Nintendo 3DS’s eShop, sold a collector’s tin full of soundtrack CDs in Japan, and published a fan game, Street Fighter X Mega Man, on PC this week.

Thinking of Mega Man always brings me back to third grade, when I owned my first and only Mega Man game, Mega Man 3.


At least Mega Man looks like Mega Man on this cover.

I rarely received video games as gifts; when I do, I was usually surprised by games that would not top any child’s wishlist, like Air Fortress. My parents noted my interest in video games and used them as academic incentives. In 1990, I was in third grade, and I was challenged to memorize the multiplication tables up to 12 times 12. To my parents, all problems could be solved with enough effort and guided motivation, so Mega Man 3 was held over my head until I could recite the multiplication tables. Tears were shed and threats were shouted leading up to the glass display case in Kay Bee Toys where the NES games were stored. Eventually, before the actual display case with Mega Man 3 in sight, I was able to recite enough of the multiplication tables to satisfy my parents.

At the time, my only frame of reference for my expectations for Mega Man 3 was composed of a weekend of playing Mega Man 2 when my parents agreed to rent it and reading the copy of Worlds of Power: Mega Man 2 that I bought from a school Scholastic book sale until it was dog-eared and looked distressed. I didn’t actually beat Mega Man 2 until I was high school and may or may not have downloaded an NES emulator and a Mega Man 2 ROM.

In Worlds of Power: Mega Man 2, Mega Man expressed doubts about his abilities and his mission. More importantly, Dr. Light accidentally turned Mega Man from robot to human while attempting to clone Mega Man. The science behind such a transformation eludes me to this day (how do you clone a robot, how does the process of replicating a robot turn the robot human), as does a human Mega Man’s chances of surviving his mission (how does a human being survive Heat Man’s stage, which is full of pools of lava).

On this cover, Mega Man lacks the gun that
he sports on the cover to Mega Man 2.

So, as I booted up Mega Man 3, I thought Mega Man was still human, which surprised me when he exploded into light for the first time when I died. Video games had, in my experience, treated death in strange ways, but it was a stretch even by video game standards for a human being to explode into energy balls. The manual revealed to my disappointment that Mega Man was actually still a robot.

I remember making my own grids on looseleaf paper so I could record passwords to keep my progress in Mega Man 3, which was probably the first time I played a game with a password function. My parents could not understand what these sheets of paper represented, but I guarded them with my life. They became the basis for my own gaming strategy guides, and they were treasured.

I had expected to face eight Robot Masters, since Worlds of Power: Mega Man 2 had laid out the expectation that I would fight eight enemy robots in a Mega Man game and the game’s manual and Nintendo Power described the eight Robot Masters in Mega Man 3: Magnet Man, Hard Man, Top Man, Shadow Man, Spark Man, Snake Man, Gemini Man, and Needle Man. The surprise return of the eight Robot Masters from Mega Man 2 made the game seem like a much grander experience; it’s amazing what happens when expectations are exceeded. The look of the Mega Man 2 Robot Masters’ spirits descending into the empty shells that Dr. Wily made for them was actually creepy to a third grader, and the idea that I could battle these bosses that I had mostly read about with weapons from Mega Man 3 was a thrill.


Silly names, but such fun bosses and stages. And then there was the version with the Mega Man 2 Robot Masters.


Mega Man 3 also introduced Mega Man’s slide, and it made perfect sense to me as a child. Mega Man can jump and shoot and even fly thanks to his robotic dog, Rush; why wouldn’t he also be able to slide around at will? I didn’t realize that it was such a divisive addition to the Mega Man games until much later, when I saw that the slide and charge-up shot that was introduced in Mega Man 4 were commonly cited as reasons for the Mega Man franchise’s decline over time.

Sliding and profiling.

No discussion of Mega Man 3 would be complete without a brief discussion of the terrific soundtrack. Snake Man’s stage music and Needle Man’s stage music, in particular, formed the foundation for many work and workout soundtracks.

My other lasting memory of Mega Man 3 was discovering the super jump and invincibility glitches, which are connected because both are caused by pressing Right on the directional pad on the second controller. I discovered them in a copy of Nintendo Power, and I could not have beaten the game without using these glitches. The platforming challenges presented by the disappearing blocks alone were too much; add to those blocks the difficulty of navigating traps in large stages and managing resources in the face of stiff combat (stupid giant robot cat in Top Man’s stage), and I had yet another game that I almost could not finish in my childhood.

These memories of Mega Man 3 make Street Fighter X Mega Man particularly disappointing. While the soundtrack, which features mash-ups of stage themes from Street Fighter games and Mega Man games, is terrific, the stages are unimaginatively linear and feature almost no platforming. The combat, in this case, actually is hampered by the charge-up shot, which really slows the game to sequences of “wait until the Mega Buster is charged, advance, blast the enemy robot, wait until the Mega Buster is charged again.” The weapons drawn from the Street Fighter characters are often disappointing linear projectile weapons, with Chun-Li’s Lightning Kick an exception, though it could be compared to Mega Man 3‘s Top Spin. And the challenge of energy conservation has been removed: when you die, your special weapons and Rush abilities are recharged. Presumably, this is to make it easier for the player to advance if they die on the boss, but it removes the challenge of managing your weapons’ and tools’ energy levels, scrounging for that last energy pellet before the boss fight, and figuring out other weapons that could work if the best weapon against a particular Robot Master is out of juice.

Nonetheless, no game or lack of games can take away the smile that appears when I think about the giant undulating snake in Snake Man’s stage, the robotic porcupine in Needle Man’s stage, the evil giant cat in Top Man’s stage, the bees in Hard Man’s stage, and all the other foes I conquered to defeat Dr. Wily in Mega Man 3. Wow, that game had a lot of robot animal enemies.

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Postcards From the Abyss–Part 2: An Unfriendly Welcome

In the first thirty minutes of my time with the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, it already provided me with the best aspects off the Dark Souls experience.

Right off the bat–boss fight. As soon as I arrived in the new area, I ran into a fog gate, which means one of two things–either it’s your first time accessing a new area, or there’s a boss waiting for you. It was the latter, and what a boss to start with. A manticore called the Sanctuary Guardian pretty much destroyed me in my first encounter with it. A combination of charge attacks, lightning bolts and a vicious tail whip did me in. For my second attempt, I summoned in a couple of good samaritans and between the three of us, we took down the Guardian. I also got a sweet whip weapon for taking off the Guardian’s tale. Bowing to my anonymous friends, I soldiered forth as they returned to their home worlds.

After stopping to rest at the creepy but beautiful Oolacile Sanctuary, I crossed a bridge and entered the Royal Wood. I was immediately faced with a couple of Scarecrows, which i dispatched. I didn’t have long to pat myself on the back however, as I was then invaded by another player.

And such is the double-edged sword that is summoning in Dark Souls. You have to be in human form to summon allies into your game, which I did in order to defeat the Stone Guardian. But, walking around in human form also leaves you open to being invaded. It’s this type of risk-reward proposition that makes Dark Souls so exciting.

Anyway, back to the invader. He (or she) was a savvy player, and I almost fell into the trap he was setting. He used ranged crossbow attacks to bait me into chasing him farther into the Royal Wood. Not being familiar with the area, I didn’t realize there were giant Stone Guardians roaming that area, which he attempted to lead me into. I retreated just in time, and then a twenty-minute cat and mouse battle ensued. Seeing that I wouldn’t fall for the trap, my invader then poisoned me and tried to wait me out. I summoned an ally in, which he led into the Stone Guardians and an untimely death. I then drew him closer to me, where he still attacked via crossbow and tired to retreat whenever I got close.

At one point, I backed him into a corner and got a few good licks in, He then used Humanity to heal himself back up, and we started the dance all over again., He had actually worn me down to one Estus Flask (healing potion) left, when I finally defeated him with a couple of halberd strikes. It was a pretty epic battle, and a very rewarding victory.

All in the first half hour of my time with the new DLC.

Dark Souls, I love you.

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Gaming Stories: The House of the Dead 2

What do you when your high school prom is over and you don’t want to go home yet? I’m wearing a tuxedo for the first time in my life (and looking pretty sharp, if I may say so myself), while my date is wearing a lovely blue dress. We’re in Times Square, the center of New York City, and all options (except bars, which required ID that we didn’t have and couldn’t show that we were of drinking age even if we did) lay before us. We could go to her favorite Greek coffee and pastry shop for some after-prom treats, but that’s near her house, and it would effectively signal the end of the evening. We got out late enough that we missed the last showings at the cinemas in Times Square, and who wants to watch a movie while wearing a tuxedo and a lovely formal blue dress anyway?

I did the only reasonable thing a teenager in Times Square could do: I took her to an arcade so we could play some video games.

I’m trying to remember what my rationale at the time must have been. I probably read an article in Maxim or Stuff or some other guy-oriented magazine or Web column that a great date should involve action. We had dinner and dancing at the prom, and since the bowling alley was several blocks away in the Port Authority bus terminal (and again, I wouldn’t go to the Port Authority bus terminal while dressed in a tuxedo) (and also, I’m not even sure that the bowling alley in the Port Authority bus terminal had been built by this time), that was not an option. So, we walked to the arcade.

While we definitely got some strange looks from the bouncer (which is a bad sign, if you think about it) at the arcade, we didn’t care because we were in our own little world that evening. I hadn’t really planned this far out, so I was left trying to figure out what game I could play with my date. Obviously, it would have to be cooperative; I wasn’t a huge fan of fighting games, and asking my date to play me in NBA Jam: Tournament Edition didn’t seem fair since it would be the first time she’s ever played it. I couldn’t find a cooperative side-scrolling game like The Simpsons Arcade Game, and I was burning precious goodwill with even proposing to go to the arcade, so I couldn’t dilly-dally while we were there. Then I saw the answer.

It seemed like the perfect option. It was moderately scary, so it would keep our adrenaline going. At $0.5 per credit, it wasn’t cheap to play, but it wasn’t disastrously expensive to a teenager like some of the other games were. And it was simple to explain: point the gun at the screen and pull the trigger to kill things.

I bought a few dollars worth of credits and we started the game. We cracked up when we had to defend ourselves against the dreaded green hopping frogs and teased each other when we accidentally shot the victims that we were trying to save. We got stuck at first stage boss like most people because hitting that flying goblin when it’s zooming around the stage is more difficult than most people would think. And then we were out of credits, and neither of us wanted to play any more. The actual act of playing didn’t last for more than 5 minutes, but those minutes stick out in my mind more than a decade after they happened.

Frogs, the deadliest foes.

Years later, I’m not sure that it was such a great idea, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. We eventually made our way to her favorite Greek coffee and pastry shop, and the evening eventually did end, even if it ended at five o’clock the next morning. Life moved on, and I hadn’t thought about The House of the Dead 2 for a long time.

All of this came rushing back when I saw a trailer for Namco Bandai’s new horror arcade game, Dark Escape 4D. The trailer showed a man and a woman playing a horror arcade shooter; the parallels to my experience with The House of the Dead 2 hit me square on the memory button. Judging by the trailer, by engaging the tactile, auditory, and visual senses and monitoring the players’ heart rates, Dark Escape 4D points to the promise that arcades hold: the ability to offer experiences that cannot be replicated by home consoles. Sure, I can reproduce the experience of playing The House of the Dead 2 with a Wii Zapper, a really nice TV, and a dark room. But there are some things that the home consoles can’t replicate, like the feel of using the rifle and the camera zoom in Silent Scope. Similarly, I wouldn’t be able to duplicate Dark Escape 4D without a serious investment of time and resources.

No console could replicate the feel of holding the rifle or looking into the scope.

The question of getting our friends and family into sharing the joy of playing games is popular and frequent blog fodder. More often than not, the response involves helping the neophyte get over the mechanics of playing a video game these days because using two joysticks to navigate a world isn’t intuitive to everyone. Every time I see a writer address the question, I think of the time I played The House of the Dead 2 with my prom date that night, how quickly she was able to grasp the mechanics of it, but how quickly she felt finished with the experience. It’s not always a matter of mechanics; it’s a matter of investment.

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Gaming Stories: Marvel vs. Capcom 2

I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. 

I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride. I wanna take you for a ride.

I was never much of a fighting game fan growing up, and that might be due to membership in the Sega Genesis camp. For a long time, my only exposure to two-dimensional fighting games came from watching other play games like Street Fighter II, World Heroes, Saturday Night Slam Masters, and Fatal Fury at arcades or comic book stores that happened to have an arcade machine or two in the back of the store or in the Versus mode in Streets of Rage 2. When my parents would agree to rent a game for me from Blockbuster, I stayed away from fighting games because I never thought that they would have the longevity of a platformer or an action game. This is how I ended up playing Chakan: The Forever Man and Ex-Mutants instead of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition or Mortal Kombat.

Eventually, I found friends who were also members in the Sega Genesis camp, and I was able to borrow Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II: Champion Edition to introduce myself to fighting games. Some lateral thinking was required to play a five-button fighting game like Mortal Kombat or a six-button fighting game like Street Fighter II: Champion Edition on a Genesis controller that had only three buttons or four, if we counted the Start button. Of course, using the Start button for block, for example, meant that there was no way to pause the game. Until the six-button Genesis controller was created, playing either Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter II: Champion Edition on the Genesis meant that it was not an arcade-perfect experience, even if the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat kept the blood instead of turning it into sweat. 
I only had the classic three-button controller; I always wanted the six-button one, but I never got it.
Since I skipped the PlayStation/Nintendo 64/Saturn era of consoles, opting for PC games instead, I only kept up with fighting games by watching other people play in the arcade. When arcades started disappearing, I lost my connection to fighting games until I went to college, where an acquaintance down the hall in my dorm had a Dreamcast and a copy of Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes. Oddly enough, I didn’t become friends with him. Instead, I became friends with people on the other end of the hall who had a Nintendo 64 and copies of WCW/NWO Revenge and GoldenEye 007 and a PlayStation and copies of Silent Hill, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes.
By sophomore year, I had saved enough from two part-time jobs to get a PlayStation 2 and some games during winter break. At the time, I justified it to myself by saying that I needed a DVD player, so I may as well get one that could also play games. If I were to be honest with myself, I think that I just wanted to play games that were not available on the PC, such as Dance Dance Revolution, that I could also use for party play. One of the games I bought with that PlayStation 2 was Marvel vs. Capcom 2
Back then, the thrill of playing came from churning through as many games as possible, so I didn’t stick with Marvel vs. Capcom 2 long enough to advance beyond very low level play against the AI set to the easiest difficulty. And so I traded it in at a Gamestop, probably for credits so I could get Dynasty Warriors 4 or something. For a long time after, I would cringe every time I saw the prices for Marvel vs. Capcom 2 on the PlayStation 2 on eBay.
Traded in for pennies on the dollar at Gamestop so I could get Dynasty Warriors 4. That was a mistake.
That feeling of embarrassment and regret probably fueled my intense desire to one day own a Marvel vs. Capcom 2 arcade machine. Even on the PlayStation 2’s controller didn’t feel quite right for playing a fighting game like Marvel vs. Capcom 2; it’s entirely it didn’t feel comfortable to me because I lacked the manual dexterity or the patience to stick with it until my hands adjusted. After all, if people are willing to contort their hands into The Claw so they can play Monster Hunter on the PlayStation Portable, I probably could have gotten used to playing Marvel vs. Capcom 2 on the PlayStation 2’s controller. 
I know nothing about owning an arcade machine, but I was willing to learn, and I had disposable income to spend and my parents’ basement to use. Still, I didn’t get one. Life gets in the way, the disposable income was no longer disposable, and my parents’ basement was no longer a storage option for an arcade machine. 
But just as col.CC Filipino Champ’s Phoenix was revived multiple times by Dark Phoenix in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 during Evo 2012’s UMVC3 tournament, so my idea of owning a Marvel vs. Capcom 2 machine (“MVC2 machine”) was revived when I saw a neglected MVC2 machine at a store I pass every day on the way to and from work. I never saw anyone use the machine, and it was eventually turned off and covered by a cloth so the store could use the controller panel to store questionable DVDs of even more questionable films. Every day I would imagine asking the store’s manager if the MVC2 machine was on sale. Every time I would hear stories on podcasts about California Extreme, I would check my bank account to see if I could afford it. I even recruited my wife to ask the store’s manager about the machine’s availability while I watched with our toddler son from across the street. Her investigation uncovered that the store had only rented the machine from a supplier and that the store manager was waiting for the supplier to pick up the machine. This meant that I had only so much time before the machine would be gone from the store. It should be noted that I never quite confirmed that the owner was willing to sell.
There was a point where I had my wife’s approval, sufficient funds, and space in our current apartment, but I didn’t pull the trigger. But I decided to resume graduate studies, and it turned out that the money I had mentally allocated to buying the MVC2 machine was put to much better use paying for classes and buying a financial calculator. But I knew that the dream would have to lie fallow (for now) when I passed by that store one evening and saw that there was only empty space where the MVC2 machine once stood. 
Since I know nothing about owning an arcade machine and didn’t have a burning desire to play Marvel vs. Capcom 2, I’m still not sure why I wanted that particular MVC2 machine so badly. Maybe it was the proximity; the store was a 5 minute walk away from where we currently live. Maybe I thought that I would have to pay at most $250 for that MVC2 machine; the market price range seems to be $400-$1,100. Or maybe it’s the mystique of owning an arcade machine, and the MVC2 machine was the closest, possibly available option. 
Maybe one day, if I’m still interested and you happen to be available.
At some point in the future, I’d like to own an arcade machine. It doesn’t have to Marvel vs. Capcom 2; it could be Silent Scope, House of the Dead 2, or NBA Jam: Tournament Edition. But there’s no rush, even though the supply of CRT televisions dries up since they’re no longer produced, which means that replacing a broken screen in an arcade machine becomes increasingly difficult. We’ll see how my resolve holds up around next July, when the next round of stories from California Extreme come around. In the meantime, I wanna take you for a ride I wanna take you for a ride  I wanna take you for a ride I wanna take you for a ride I wanna take you for a ride…
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Dark Souls II–Highly Anticipated Doesn’t Even Begin to Describe It

Say what you will about the Video Game Awards, we at least know we’ll get a few good trailers out of them each year. I’m always hoping to be surprised with a game that I can really excited about.

So about five seconds into the trailer in the player below, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, because I realized what it was.

Dark Souls II.

I’ve watched this trailer over 20 times now, and I notice something new about the world, the enemies (love those masks!), and possible hints at the story each time. I am one who’s prone to hyperbole, but I cannot remember being this excited for a game in a long time.

There are already articles out there full of wish lists, speculation, and some worry as well.

I think the biggest two concerns are that Miyazaki, the director of the first two games, will not be helming Dark Souls II, and there is some intent by the dev team to make the game more accessible to a wider audience. I’m choosing to give them the benefit of the doubt, as From Software is still developing the game, and I am confident they will figure out how to provide the brutal Souls experience to fans of the series, even if there are elements that make the game more accessible.

I am beyond excited for this game. Easily my most anticipated for next year.