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We’ve Got a YouTube Channel and G+ Page!

Well, we’ve actually had both a Google+ and YouTube page for some time, but they were kind of placeholders, as I hadn’t done anything with them. But necessity is the mother of invention they say, and a recent problem with Twitch led me to actually do something with the YouTube and G+ pages.

There’s a problem with the Twitch embedded players–they are autoplaying even though the setting is set to “off.” This is a known issue and it hasn’t been fixed yet. One of the reasons I haven’t been posting more Twitch highlights here lately is that I don’t want the whole front page of the blog to start autoplaying whenever someone comes here to check out a post.

Good news, though! I can export highlights to the new Co-Op Critics YouTube page, and then embed them here, so we’re back in business. What’s more, all of the highlights posted here will be archived on that YouTube page now, so if there’s something you want to go back to, you’ll be able to. The only real downer is that the videos are restricted to 15 minutes, so for longer videos, you’ll still have to go to the Twitch page to see them.

I’d really like to build up more of a community around this blog and the Google+ page, so expect to hear more about that in the coming weeks. I’ll also be recording new podcast episodes, so stay tuned!

For your reference (and I’ll put these on the sidebar as well, here are the places you can find co-Op Critics:

Blog: co-opcritics.com
Twitch: twitch.tv/coopcritics
YouTube: youtube.com/c/Co-opcritics
Google+: google.com/+Co-opcritics

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Exiting the Tomodachi Life

Though I’m an online creature, I don’t think that the online version of me is radically different than the meatspace version of me that occupies the physical world. The same brain directs both versions of me, even though the brain has to adjust to how each version of me interacts with and receives feedback from its respective world. The same soul is reflected in how the digital and physical me interacts with the people who inhabit each world.

Since I never made a distinction between the digital and the physical me, I never saw the point of playing social simulations like The Sims, Animal Crossing, or Harvest Moon. Furthermore, the physical act of playing social simulations like The Sims or Animal Crossing seemed particularly tedious; there didn’t seem to be the type of feedback that more active games like character action-adventure games or sports simulation games or first person shooters can provide.

So, I was surprised at my own reaction to what I saw of Tomodachi Life, specifically when the Giant Bomb crew played it on an episode of their weekly show, Unprofessional Fridays. The game’s quirkiness appealed to me, and for a while, it kept me glued to the game on my commute to work every morning. One morning, I found that Jesus of Nazareth, whom I had invited to live on island, named Tummy Isle Island, had been arrested for adding hot mustard to foods around the island. No explanation was given for why Jesus had made this his mission, and the other residents of Tummy Isle Island had muted reactions to this news. Another morning, Jesus attempted to break the world record of facial distortion by stretching his face but failed by an inch. Did Jesus go on his hot mustard mission because he failed to break this world record, or was it because I fed him something that he didn’t like the day before? Another morning, one resident dreamed an ill-fated romance between a brownie and a stack of pancakes. On a different morning, another resident dreamed that he was a bobblehead on a dashboard of a car that was racing through a dark forest. One night, my own avatar dreamed that he was a snail crawling along a blank white floor. These snippets sound like gibberish when I recount them to anyone else.

Though quirky and kooky stuff have a fairly limited lifespan (I’ve seen the dashboard bobblehead dream multiple times from different residents, so it seems like something with which the game likes to populate its characters’ dreams), that wasn’t what ultimately caused me to  finally put Tomodachi Life aside. Instead, it’s something that should seem impossible for a game that’s as theoretically personalized as Tomodachi Life: the feeling of homogeneity.

For a while, my game felt personalized enough that I wasn’t left wondering about the game’s nuts and bolts. The goal is to keep the avatars I’ve populated Tummy Isle Island with as happy as possible by meeting their essential needs (food, clothes, shelter, companionship). I populated my world with a mix of celebrities (Shaq, the Giant Bomb crew), my family members (my wife, son, brother, and sister-in-law), my friends, and fictional characters (Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Rei Ayanami, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Geordi LaForge, Yotsuba&!‘s Yotsuba Koiwai, and Left4Dead‘s Zoey and Louis). Though I inserted my wife and me into the game, but there’s no obvious guarantee that they would become sweethearts and eventually husband and wife. (Except, if you think about the game’s logic, there is, but we’ll explore that later.) As in real life, my wife’s avatar proposed to me, and I felt awful when I botched my wife’s avatar’s proposal to my avatar by tapping the screen at the wrong time.

As time passes and I continue to solve the avatars’ problems, the avatars’ levels rise. I think my avatar is at level 14; Shaq’s probably at level 13. The game’s simulacrum breaks not from the fact that the avatars’ measure their growth in levels, but from the homogeneity that this mechanic forces upon the avatar. At each level, the player is forced to give the character a gift from a limited selection, a catchphrase for when the character is angry, happy, or sad, an apartment design again from a limited selection, a song from a limited selection of styles, or some pocket money from the player’s own in-game funds. In the physical world, I can’t rap or sing opera. But, my avatar in Tomodachi Life does because I simply ran out of things I could give him as he gained levels. The player is limited in the number and type of gifts we can give the avatars; almost all of the avatars, including Jesus of Nazareth, on Tummy Isle Island have cell phones I had to give them something, and Jesus didn’t seem like the type to have a punching bag. Similarly, my wife and I both rap, sing opera, have cell phones, and have the same apartment designs. The distinctions between characters gets filed down by the limited variety of things we can do when the characters level up. In order to keep the avatars unique, I can either give them pocket change that they won’t use from a pool I need to use to buy things to keep the avatars happy or homogenize them.

Once the game’s own obstacle to avatar growth became clear, I was given the mental space to wonder how and why my avatars formed their connections. It was fairly obvious why my wife’s avatar formed a relationship with my own avatar: we were the only avatars on Tummy Isle Island for a while. Oddly enough, neither avatar ever formed a connection with my son’s avatar, even though I had designated in the Mii Creator that he was our son. This left me in a weird position of wondering what happens when our avatars have a baby in Tomodachi Life when our actual kid’s avatar is already in the game and seemingly estranged from our avatars. And this doubt led me to where social simulation games die: GameFAQs.

The moment I’m tempted to open a guide to understand the game’s nuts and bolts, the game’s illusions are dispelled. And because the mini-games in Tomodachi Life are shallow, the mechanics of clothing and feeding the avatars shallow, and the lifespan of quirkiness fairly limited, I took the cartridge out of the 3DS XL that I ostensibly bought so I could play Tomodachi Life with a small sense of relief.

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Co-Op Critics Podcast–E3 and Left 4 Dead

In this episode of Co-Op Critics, Brian and Dan discuss their takeaways from this year’s E3, and profess their love for the Left 4 Dead series.

You can either listen to the episode here on the embedded player to the right, or download it here.

You can follow Brian on Twitter (twitter.com/seebrianwrite) and check out his blog at www.seebrianwrite.com.

Dan Evans can be found on Twitter (twitter.com/sk8j)

Send comments to sipodcast@comcast.net OR leave us a voicemail at 860-698-0468. Check out www.secretidentitypodcast.com for all things Secret Identity, and come back to www.co-opcritics.com for more gaming discussion!

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Gaming Stories: Video Game Championship Wrestling IV

Tonight is not the night, but that shouldn’t stop us from checking in on what is happening in the world of Video Game Championship Wrestling. 
When we last checked in on Video Game Championship Wrestling, Phoenix Wright, Nappa, and Solid Snake had exposed Baz McMahon’s involvement in covering up the vehicular assault on Little Mac. Baz McMahon had kidnapped Luigi, a witness to the vehicular assault, and brainwashed him to believe that he was Mr. L, a violent and vicious fighter who created havoc on the January 28, 2013 show by attacking Locke Cole and Sabin Rene Figaro after they won the Co-Op Championship, Shinya Arino after he won a first blood match against Dante, and Ganondorf before his VGCW Championship match against Raphael. Mr. L’s rampage continued on the February 1, 2013 show by attacking Gabe Newell, Segata Sanshiro, Vegeta, and Zangief backstage. Fortunately, Mario returned from his leave of absence from Video Game Championship Wrestling to break his brother from Baz McMahon’s mental conditioning and become the heroic Luigi once more. In a touching but surreal moment, Mario, Phoenix Wright, and Nappa were able to cast the Mr. L identity to the depths of hell.
This was an unusual moment even for Video Game Championship Wrestling, which considers real people like Gabe Newell, fictional characters like Donkey Kong, and personalities portrayed by real people like the Angry Video Game Nerd as all real. However, in the context of professional wrestling, the occasional foray into the supernatural world isn’t that strange. Putting aside companies like Kaiju Big Battel, which accept the supernatural and the outlandish as common, professional wrestling has had a long and extensive history of using the supernatural to spice up its masculine soap opera. 
The most prominent and famous example would be WWE’s The Undertaker. The Undertaker first appeared in the WWE (then called WWF) in 1990 as a walking undead man who was impervious to pain. He was famously managed by Paul Bearer, a pale and portly man whose voice sounded like a ghost’s wails. Paul Bearer carried an urn that he would use to revive The Undertaker’s strength whenever The Undertaker fell victim to his enemies. The Undertaker would place his defeated opponents in bodybags and carry them backstage; it was never made clear what The Undertaker and Paul Bearer did to these opponents, but the intimation was always menacing. When The Undertaker was seemingly defeated decisively at the 1994 Royal Rumble after some villainous wrestlers sealed The Undertaker in a casket, the announcers acted as though The Undertaker was dead and were shocked when The Undertaker appeared on the arena’s video screen to warn them that his spirit would return.
This was only the beginning of The Undertaker’s infusion of the supernatural into professional wrestling as presented by the WWE. Over time, The Undertaker would found the Ministry of Darkness, a professional wrestling stable that was dedicated to unleashing evil on the WWE. In The Undertaker’s pursuit of his unspecified but evil agenda, he kidnapped Stephanie McMahon, daughter of WWE’s owner Vince McMahon, crucified wrestler Steve Austin, kidnapped and converted various wrestlers using incantations and magical rituals to join his cult, and fight his brother, a wrestler named Kane, who demonstrated an ability to control pyrotechnics, had an affinity for fire, and was sometimes portrayed as a monster rising from a hellish inferno from beneath the wrestling ring. Meanwhile, The Undertaker demonstrated that he was a ghostly figure who was able to command lightning and fog. Around this time, The Undertaker was featured in a comic book published by Chaos! Comics, where he was portrayed as a ruler of an infernal dimension known as the Hell’s Prison Realm. 
The Undertaker and Kane, supernatural wrestling brothers.
The resolution to the Mr. L storyline was reminiscent of a storyline that featured Kane from 2011 and 2012, when he returned from a leave of absence in a costume seemingly inspired by the incisions of a portmortem human body after an autopsy. Kane attacked another wrestler named Zach Ryder by dragging him through a hole in the ring to “hell.” These similarities are not coincidental; Video Game Championship Wrestling is, after all, performed in WWE ’13, so it would naturally use storytelling elements that WWE wrestlers like Kane and The Undertaker would use. 
Video Game Championship Wrestling has entered its third season, and the overarching storyline so far has involved a league-wide tournament to determine whom the new General Manager of VGCW will be after Baz McMahon’s departure. Of course, unnecessarily confusing and complex organizational hierarchies and almost meaningless authority figures is another common professional wrestling trope, so it brings a smile to my face to see Bazza87 embrace it in Video Game Championship Wrestling too. The current tournament favorite seems to be Ganondorf, who along with Zangief forms the team of Gerudo Skies, the current Co-Op Champions. Ganondorf’s next opponent in the tournament is Adam Jensen; if Charles Barkley defeats Gabe Newell to advance to the finals, he will be all that stands between Video Game Championship Wrestling and Ganondorf’s second 1000 years of darkness.
The Chaos Dunk vs. The Triforce of Power. 
Indeed, Barkley might be all that stands between Video Game Championship Wrestling and Ganondorf’s second 1000 years of darkness.
A possible dark future for Video Game Championship Wrestling?

Tournaments are another common trope in professional wrestling, and almost wrestling promotion has held a tournament at one time or another. From WWE’s King of the Ring to WCW’s Jim Crockett, Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament to TNA’s World X-Cup among the major wrestling companies to Chikara Pro’s King of Trios, East Coast Wrestling Association’s famed Super 8 tournament to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s annual Battle of Los Angeles tournament, companies have used tournaments to introduce new wrestlers, highlight the talents of wrestlers already on contract, create new rivalries, reignite old rivalries, and introduce high stakes into what could be an otherwise dull period.

Tournaments have been held in Video Game Championship Wrestling the past, but they didn’t have the stakes involved in this tournament, which started on the February 18, 2013 show and has been featured in each show’s main event or semi-main event since. Rivalries have been renewed, such as the simmering feud between Charles Barkley and Vegeta, and great moments were revisited, such as when Gabe Newell repaid Nappa for the time Nappa suplexed Newell from the top rope and collapsed the ring.

The field has been pared down to its final four, all crowd favorites: Adam Jensen, Ganondorf, Gabe Newell, and Charles Barkley. Newell has seemed unstoppable; his patented Wallet Squeeze bear hug has devastated   his opponents. Similarly, Ganondorf has dispatched Wailuigi, a former Casual Champion, and the Angry Video Game Nerd, a tournament dark horse. Jensen defeated M. Bison and Mike Haggar in tough bouts, while Barkley triumphed over his nemesis Vegeta and countered Dr. Wily’s dastardly designs on his path.

The tournament field as of March 21, 2013.

With all the focus on this tournament, it would be easy to overlook some of the changes to the roster that have taken place. Since we last checked in on Video Game Championship Wrestling, Phoenix Wright, one of the heroes of the Baz McMahon/Mr. L saga, has hinted that he is considering retirement from fighting. Simon Belmont was dispatched by Dracula; he hasn’t been since that match. Woody and Ash Ketchum have been repackaged as Voody and Red, respectively, while Tingle, Geno, Ryo Hazuki, and Groose have joined the roster. While Groose had a divisive debut, I believe that his adorably clumsy entrance, if nothing else, will win fans over to his side.

Groose will represent the Zelda franchise in VGCW about as well as Link did.

Independent wrestling companies like Ring of Honor or the now defunct IWA-Mid South often faced the problem of audience burnout because their shows would run almost four hours, which is a lot to ask of an audience. The shows’ run times, combined with the time commuting to and from the venue, often meant that I would need to dedicate five to six hours to professional wrestling, which isn’t sustainable in the long run. I had similar concerns about Video Game Championship Wrestling because its shows would sometimes run for four hours because of the long matches and the loading times in WWE ’13. Combined with the frequency with which Bazza87 held shows, audience burnout was a strong possibility. Bazza87 addressed this problem directly on his Twitter feed, and he has held firm to the commitment to limit shows to two to three hours long, which has made it easier for fans like me to keep watching.

Shortening the shows has also allowed me to pay more attention to the undercard matches, where sometimes the most entertaining moments of Video Game Championship Wrestling happen. For instance, take Dan Hibiki’s super taunt of Barrett Wallace from the March 19, 2013 show:

On the March 7, 2013 episode of Giant Bomb’s Thursday Night Throwdown (subscriber access only), TwitchTV’s Jared Rea and Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann spoke enthusiastically about Video Game Championship Wrestling; Gerstmann followed it up with a brief article on why he finds Video Game Championship Wrestling so entertaining. Hopefully, Gerstmann and Rea directed even more viewers to Bazza87’s Video Game Championship Wrestling feed; something this delightful should be experienced by as many people as possible.

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Gaming Stories: Magic: The Gathering

I was surprised to see that my opponent was a married, bearded man my age from Williamsburg. I had prepared myself for the worst kind of loud, know-it-all teenager who had too much time but too little patience for an old guy like me. Instead, my opponent was a friendly guy who was seated to my left when I constructed my deck. We both asked for the same colored deck from the tournament organizer, so I knew that this would be almost a mirror match. We shook hands, and he was patient when he pointed out that the card I just played would come into the battlefield tapped, which meant that I had to turn it sideways on that turn and that I couldn’t use the resource it contained to do what I was trying to do. When he beat me two games to none and eliminated me from the tournament, we shook hands again and talked about how our respective wives would react to our tentative re-entries into this addiction called Magic: The Gathering. He said that she was fine as long as he didn’t play more than once a week; I said that I have to get rid of my cards at the end of the tournament because there was no way I could bring them home. We shared a laugh, played a friendly match (he beat me again), and we moved on, him to his next match, me to my wife and kid at home. And that was the summation of my very brief return to Magic: The Gathering, except it wasn’t.

Games on my iPad tend to have very short life spans. I haven’t loaded Civilization Revolution after a torrid three-month affair; even the promise of new buildings and units for various civilizations has not enticed me to return. 10000000 was a beloved game for the month it took me to escape the castle; I loaded it recently and could not find the emotional investment to play it with any seriousness. Puzzles and Dragons kept me up for hours past a decent bedtime and had my iPad glued to my hand for weeks until I decided that I was sick of grinding out money and experience points for my creatures and deleted the game. The only game that has had any success in keeping my attention has been the one with the most unwieldy title, Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. 
Thinking about Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering brings me back to my days in junior high school when my friends and I would go to a nearby comic book store, head to a windowless and starkly lit second story room, and try out our latest decks. I was not a serious Magic: The Gathering player; instead, my game of choice was Decipher’s Star Trek: The Next Generation Customizable Card Game, which is now known by a slightly less cumbersome and more accurate name, Star Trek Customizable Card Game (and which I’m going to call Star Trek CCG from here). I drifted away from Star Trek CCG for the same reason I was never willing to invest myself into Magic: The Gathering: the barrier to entry to being “good” was too high. Unlike some of my friends who also played Star Trek CCG, I was not able or willing to pay $125 for a copy of the Future Enterprise card or even more than that for the rare collection of deluxe cards, The Fajo Collection. So my interest tapered off as Decipher released more expansion card collections to Star Trek CCG and I eventually boxed my cards up or gave them to friends.
The object of my intense adolescent desire.
If I were unwilling or unable to pay what was to an adolescent a significant amount of money for some playing cards in a game that I was emotionally invested in, I certainly wasn’t going to invest a lot of money in order to play Magic: The Gathering with my friends. So I tried my best to create decks with their cast-off cards; I settled on a deck that utilized white and black knights as my creatures. I had some moderate success with it against other surface level players, but there was no way I could compete against players who were willing to spend thousands of dollars to obtain powerful cards like the infamous Black Lotus or Demonic Tutor. So, there was no reason to invest myself emotionally in Magic: The Gathering, and the interest faded away almost completely by the time I moved on to college.
Black Lotus: the world’s most expensive Magic: The Gathering card.
Except, as a recent article in New York pointed out, no one ever really leaves adolescence. This isn’t a case of arrested development, of “man-babies” or “man-children” who have been the subject of articles and posts in male-oriented magazines and Websites for years. Instead, we’re all traumatized on some level by our experiences in high school. While I wouldn’t say that my brief teenage forays into competitive Magic: The Gathering traumatized me, they certainly left their mark. Thanks to running head first against the financial barriers to entry in Magic: The Gathering and Star Trek CCG, I was (and continue to be) skeptical about paying to play massive multiplayer online role-playing games, to start collecting anything, or to even play free to play games, such as Puzzles and Dragons or Kingdom Rush, on my iPad that have In App Purchases. In those cases, I can see the appeal directly conflict with the need to pay more to either keep having fun or to have more fun. The process of learning to leave Magic: The Gathering and Star Trek CCG taught me that fun is a disposable commodity.
Years later, I thought that the original Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers on Xbox Live Arcade would be a good compromise between that ember of desire to play Magic: The Gathering and my unwillingness to significantly invest my money, time, or emotion into the game. For a while, it was a fine substitute; I even got all the achievements in the main version and one of the expansion packs. But the announcement that there would be a sequel with minor improvements a year after the original game’s release soured me again. It was a stark reminder that Wizards of the Coast was more than happy to make an annualized product that wouldn’t address some of my concerns about the player’s inability to modify the decks much, the slow pace of the game, and the game’s general instability. So I bailed on Magic: The Gathering a second time.
By the time I got an iPad and saw that Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 (which I’m going to refer to as DotP 2013) was available, I could price my willingness to even try the game at about $10. I downloaded the free version, and since the price to upgrade to a full version was less than $10, the satisfaction to investment ratio seemed to be in my favor. And it did pay itself off when I was able to spawn a gigantic creature to crush my opponents.
A Primordial Hydra grown to 128 power and 128 health splattered my opponents across the battlefield.
The satisfaction of growing a creature that large was almost primal.
Since my interest in Magic: The Gathering was rekindled by by DotP 2013, I wondered if there was a way I could dabble in the actual card game again. The recent release of the latest Magic: The Gathering expansion, Gatecrash, meant that there would be special events catered to old players like me who would come back to the game, even if it was for only a little while. A sealed deck tournament, where every player gets an unopened box of cards with which he or she could construct a deck, seemed like the friendliest format for a player who has been away from the game for almost a decade. 
While we were constructing our decks, some of the other players at the table asked me how long I had been away. When they heard that I had stopped playing after the fourth edition of Magic: The Gathering was released, they asked me why I came back. I’m still not quite sure. Perhaps I was inspired by Steve Heisler‘s article about his own brief return to Magic: The Gathering for The AV Club. Perhaps I was tired of playing against the AI in DotP 2013. Perhaps I wanted to recapture that little piece of my adolescence that I never had, of winning an actual Magic: The Gathering tournament, just so I could say that I had done such a thing. 
Unfortunately, my bearded, also married opponent put a quick end to that idea. I’ll admit that the ease by which he dispatched me was a little demoralizing, but he at least told me that I could take comfort in the fact that the last match would have been more competitive if I had one more turn to play one of the cards in my hand. I was treated well by all of the other players; while the crowd was predominantly male, it wasn’t aggressively macho. I wish I had an opportunity to speak with some of the women who also played in that tournament, but it seemed like everyone was at least cordial and well-behaved. At the very least, the experience was pleasant enough that I would consider going back to play one more tournament at some point.
Yesterday, my wife asked me what I was doing on my iPad, so I showed her DotP 2013. She was interested in playing, so I walked her through a match against the computer and tried to explain concepts like mana cost and creature abilities. She seemed interested in playing some more, and I mentioned offhand that I still have some physical cards somewhere if she ever wanted to play an actual game of Magic: The Gathering. (I never did manage to get rid of those cards from that sealed deck tournament.) In the meantime, I can still play DotP 2013, where I can create absurd scenarios that lead to my opponent’s defeat like this:
That’s a lot of very powerful creatures on my side.
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Gaming Stories: Video Game Championship Wrestling III

WWE’s Royal Rumble 2013 will take place this weekend, so it’s as good a time as any to check on one of my favorite online video gaming streams, Bazza87’s Video Game Championship Wrestling.

Several developments have taken place since when we last checked in with Video Game Championship Wrestling. The most significant development has been Bazza87’s agreement to a partnership deal with Twitch, which caused a number of fans to raise their concerns about how the stream would theoretically need to change in order to maintain the partnership. In many ways, Bazza87’s partnership with Twitch, which would generate revenue for Bazza87 for the work he puts into making the stream one of the most interesting views on the Web, reminded me of when independent wrestling companies sign deals with television stations and must change. 

When Extreme Championship Wrestling, at the time the third largest wrestling promotion in the United States, signed a national television distribution deal in 1999 with TNN, which was then known as The Nashville Network and transformed into The National Network and is today known as Spike, Extreme Championship Wrestling fans balanced their hope for the company’s survival because of the revenue that this deal brought and the concerns that the company would have to tone down its content in order to satisfy TNN’s advertisers. In many ways, Extreme Championship Wrestling fans’ fears were ultimately confirmed. Recently, when Ring of Honor, the largest independent wrestling company currently in operation and in many ways Extreme Championship Wrestling’s successor, signed a national television distribution deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group, the same concerns about how Ring of Honor would have to change its content in order to satisfy Sinclair Broadcast Group and its advertisers arose among Ring of Honor fans. The fear boils down to the effect money has on art.

Extreme Championship Wrestling, the cautionary example for all independent wrestling companies that followed.

Modern professional wrestling tradition dictates that a wrestler who is perceived to prioritize money over the fans must be taunted with chants of “You sold out!” I can’t say that the chant originated in Extreme Championship Wrestling when its wrestlers would leave the company for more lucrative contracts with World Championship Wrestling or World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment), but its use in Extreme Championship Wrestling certainly popularized it. So, when Bazza87, through “Baz McMahon,” his avatar in Video Game Championship Wrestling show, announced his deal with Twitch during the January 22, 2013 Video Game Championship Wrestling show, he piped in the “You sold out” chant into his show to tie his show to professional wrestling tropes once again. He then addressed his fans’ concerns that the partnership would cause Bazza87 to stop using certain songs during the show by stating unequivocally, “If I play certain music that I don’t have permission to use…this channel could get shut down. Well, what stops me from making a new channel if that happens? I’d lose my partnership sure, but VGCW will live on. So let’s answer the question. Will I stop using certain music? No chance in hell.” And of course the scene ended with “No Chance in Hell,” the theme song for both Baz McMahon in Video Game Championship Wrestling and Mr. McMahon in World Wrestling Entertainment. 

Bazza87’s broadcasting pace has not slowed; since our last post, Bazza87 has held shows on December 23, January 1, January 5, January 13, January 16, January 17, and January 22. The regular scheduling has also continued, but it does not seem to have negatively affected Video Game Championship Wrestling’s popularity. Each show continues to be viewed live by 2000-3000 viewers, and the Twitch chat and the NeoGAF thread remain active during shows.
The Video Game Championship Wrestling championship churn that I discussed last time seems to have stabilized a little. The VGCW Championship bounced from Proto Man to Donkey Kong on the December 19 show and to Solid Snake on the December 23 show, but it has since remained with Raphael, who defeated Solid Snake on the January 1 show. Raphael has defended against Dr. Eggman’s master plan twice and Dan Hibiki. Meanwhile, the team of Dr. Eggman and Dr. Wily, collectively known as The Practice, defeated GameCenter FU, the team of the Angry Video Game Nerd and GameCenter CX’s host Shinya Arino, for the Co-Op Championship on the December 19 show. The Practice defended their titles against Ganondorf and Zangief’s Gerudo Skies before losing them to Mr. Satan and Dan Hibiki’s Raw Power, who have so far successfully defended their titles against Mega Man and Proto Man’s Team Light. 
F.K. In the coffee!

Bazza87 has also tried to refresh the roster by introducing new characters, such as Capcom’s Mike Haggar, Gary Oak, Locke Cole and Sabin Rene Figaro from Final Fantasy VI, and Ron Burgundy while also removing characters like Wreck-It Ralph. Every viewer probably has characters whom he or she thinks should be eliminated or added, and the Video Game Championship Wrestling Wikia now has a character suggestion page to accommodate the fans’ desires. As always, Bazza87’s ability to meet fan requests for characters depends on the availability of the Create-a-Wrestler model in the PS3’s WWE ’13 online community, the need to balance introducing too many new characters and eliminating old favorites, consideration of whether the character would appeal to enough viewers, and whether the character was imbued with enough personality in his or her home game to make him or her worthwhile in a freeform meme melting pot like Video Game Championship Wrestling. For example, Francis York Morgan from Deadly Premonition might be a great character to introduce because of Deadly Premonition‘s cult status, the notoriety of “Life Is Beautiful” from the Deadly Premonition soundtrack, the sheer number of remixes available for “Life Is Beautiful,” and the memes that originated from Deadly Premonition, but he wouldn’t be a good character to add because he’s visually similar to Phoenix Wright, who’s already in the game.

The intersection between the information that viewers bring with them and what happens in the game’s simulation continues to be a primary source of Video Game Championship Wrestling’s entertainment. In the Pokemon cartoon, Ash Ketchum toiled in Gary Oak’s shadow. On the January 6, 2013 show, Gary Oak debuted in Video Game Championship Wrestling to challenge Ash Ketchum and remind him that Gary Oak is better than Ash Ketchum. To the viewers’ surprise, Ash Ketchum beat Gary Oak, as the game’s AI decided that Ash Ketchum was better than Gary Oak on that day.  

Ash was no loser on the January 6, 2013 show.

Furthermore, Bazza87 has addressed the difficulty of creating compelling professional wrestling storylines caused by his inability to directly control the matches’ outcomes by relying more heavily on WWE ’13‘s story creation tools. The current storyline concerns Phoenix Wright’s quest to uncover who ran down Little Mac with a sedan. Nappa joined Phoenix Wright in this investigation, while Baz McMahon continued to hinder their attempts to uncover the culprit by pitting them against his stooges, Ezio, Raphael, and Gary Oak. On the January 22, 2013 show, Phoenix Wright, Nappa, and Solid Snake were able to defeat Ezio, Raphael, and Gary Oak in a tag team match, which then allowed Phoenix Wright to arrest Baz McMahon. However, Bazza87 was able to use another tool available to him, direct text insertion into the Twitch video player, to create a cutscene to show that Baz McMahon was only a red herring and that there is someone else responsible for Little Mac’s accident.

If Baz McMahon wasn’t the real culprit, who is?

While Phoenix Wright’s investigation continues to be the central storyline running through Video Game Championship Wrestling, my favorite has been the rise and fall of Vegeta, jobber extraordinaire. Vegeta had earned his reputation for futility by losing almost every singles match in which he’s participated until he faced fan favorite Charles Barkley. While Charles Barkley has one of the best theme songs in Video Game Championship Wrestling, he’s had middling success in matches. He reached his lowest point when he lost to Vegeta on the January 16, 2013 show; this loss started a small feud between Vegeta and Charles Barkley and between Vegeta’s fans and Charles Barkley’s supporters. While Charles Barkley was able to win a Best Out of 3 Falls match against Vegeta, Vegeta has actually won 2 matches against Charles Barkley, to Barkley’s eternal shame. Everyone enjoys stories of redemption, and Vegeta’s little redemption at Barkley’s expense was particularly entertaining.

Finally, the community’s involvement with Video Game Championship Wrestling expanded when the Video Game Championship Wikia opened. Fans sprang to action to create entries detailing each wrestler, the stream’s history, and documenting the universe that Bazza87 and the fans have created, such as the sordid history of Table-san. This type of community involvement is key to Video Game Championship Wrestling’s sustainability.

Time passes and things change, but Video Game Championship Wrestling continues to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the gaming community that I’ve experienced. There was a rumor that the organizers of the Evo Championship Series were willing to exhibit Video Game Championship Wrestling at Evo 2013, but nothing seems to have come out of that rumor so far. Bazza87 has addressed some of the major concerns about the stream’s sustainability that I outlined in my previous posts about Video Game Championship Wrestling, and I look forward to how Video Game Championship Wrestling will continue to evolve in the future. 

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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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Gaming Stories: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter

“Transfer laser power to shields and double rear shields. I’m going to take the one behind us out, and then I’m going to try to hit the other one with missiles.”

“Wait, damn it, don’t close the S-foils! Power to shields, not power from shields! Argh! I am never letting you co-pilot again!”

All things considered, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter was a victim of expectations. My friends and I jumped became attached to LucasArts’ series of space sims with TIE Fighter when we passed a set of floppy disks around to install onto our computers. Then one of us got the CD-ROM edition of TIE Fighter, and we passed that around too. We still talk fondly about TIE Fighter and wonder why no one’s produced another Star Wars space sim like TIE Fighter.

At some point, one of us will inevitably remember that X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter came out and that we played it together one summer. Only one of us had a joystick and an air-conditioned room, so we would get together at his place. One of us would prefer to use keyboard and mouse, while another would prefer joystick. My preference was always keyboard and joystick, but that’s a lot of buttons to manage. So, I would normally ask one of friends to act as co-pilot. My reasoning was that Luke Skywalker had R2-D2; why couldn’t I have someone to help me pilot this fighter?

Of course, I didn’t take into account then was that my friends wouldn’t always follow directions or even act in our mutual best interest.

In vanilla X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, our options were limited to arena battles, called “Furballs,” and we would compete to see who could down the most enemy fighters in a given amount of time. So, we would pass the keyboard, joystick, or mouse to each other and try to pull off the best and flashiest kills. The details escape me, but my lasting memory was cursing my friend’s name after he sabotaged our fighter as my round was running out. My friends couldn’t stop laughing; I couldn’t start laughing until weeks later when I got my revenge by shutting his fighter’s engines down so the computer-controlled fighters could easily pick him off. Good times.

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Gaming Stories: Spelunky

Six hundred and twenty-one plays, six hundred and twenty-one deaths, zero wins. I’ve never been so happy with such futility.

I’ve been poking at Spelunky since about 2010, but I didn’t make a concerted effort to finish the game until this summer after the Xbox Live Arcade port was released. To this day, I still haven’t played that version. Instead, I’ve continued to try to conquer the original freeware PC version, where, despite my futility so far, I feel like I’m near a breakthrough.

I wonder how many of those deaths are intentional suicides after I took an early hit in first couple of stages. If I can feel the game going poorly, I’ll find the nearest enemy, spikes, or large fall, kill my avatar, and start again.

The pressure for a perfect run used to define my explorations of Spelunky, but for now, I just want to make it from the first stage to the fourth stage in one piece so I can unlock the tunnel to the fourth stage. When I pursued the perfect run, I would rage at the cheap hits from bats and snakes, curse the spiders, and curse myself for walking into yet another arrow trap that knocked me off a cliff, taking me from full life to death in a matter of seconds. I would boil because I was too close to an exploding space ship in the third stage or because I was caught in a damage loop from the snow monsters in the third stage. I would curse the spiders and frogs who seemed to be able to impossibly adjust their jumps so they land right on my head.

Try again. 

I tend not to play many video games around my toddler, but Spelunky, for whatever reason, is one of the first video games to which I’ve exposed him. He calls it the “try again” game. In a way, I guess it’s teaching him good-nature perseverance.

Update: while finishing this post, I gave it another try. Six hundred and twenty-two plays, six hundred and twenty-two deaths, zero wins. Let’s try it again.