Fists of Forty (Round 3): Let the Beatdowns Begin

First off, let me just say that Patrick Miller’s fighting game primer is fantastic. I have already gained a deeper appreciation for fighting games, whether I end up getting decent at them or not. One of the first things he talks about in the book is that this eight second video of Ryu vs. Ryu pretty much contains everything you need to know about fighting games–and it actually does.

After watching that video quite a few times and reading through the first section of the book, I decided to fire up Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and get a baseline. As the book suggested, I went into training mode as Ryu against Ryu, to practice doing his basic moves before I moved on.

And when the other Ryu was just a training dummy offering no resistance whatsoever, I felt pretty good about executing moves. I was hitting my fireballs (Hadokens) 70% of the time, and my Dragon Punches (Shoryukens) about half the time. I was mixing up strikes and throws, and after a little while felt pretty comfortable with Ryu’s basic moves.

And then I let the training dummy fight back.

As soon as I let the other Ryu loose, I was on my heels. From the start, he kept me on the defensive by peppering me with fireballs. Whenever I tried to come out of the corner by jumping a fireball, he’d kick me in mid-air or Dragon Punch me, and if I managed to get close enough, he’d throw me. But the most disorienting aspect of the beatdowns was how fast the moves were coming. Eventually, I’d start getting a few moves in here or there, but I was not executing well due to the constant barrage, so I would constantly leave myself open to getting punished.

Tired of getting destroyed by my mirror image, I decided to hop into Arcade Mode to finish out my training session. I put it on medium difficulty and was pitted against Guile, who promptly showed my why I was not ready for medium difficulty yet.

Like Ryu’s fireballs, Guile used his Sonic Boom to keep me on my heels and then close the distance. Whenever he got close, it was throw time. His Dragon Suplex (the one where he beds over backwards and drives you into the ground) was his throw of choice, and I am still having nightmares of him landing that move over and over again.

For my part, I did start to make some progress against Guile, blocking those early barrages of Sonic Booms and then finding my windows to strike. But once again, lack of execution just meant I was getting punished for missing throws, Dragon Punches and fireballs.

It kind of sounds like I’m not making progress, but I know that I am. Even in the short time I’ve been putting the effort in, I am already seeing the game differently. I’ve progressed past button mashing and I’m starting to see the strategy behind the game. But my lack of execution in versus situations means I have a lot more practicing to do.

Next time, I face off against Dee Jay, Ken and Chun Li.


Fists of Forty (Round 2): Pre-Fight Preparations

My quest to become a better fighting game player began with research. Because I knew that if I wanted to get serious about learning fighting games, it would need to be on a stick, not a gamepad. Turns out those things are pretty expensive. For example, the only sticks out right now for XBox One are about $200, and Killer Instinct is really the only game I’d be putting time into on that console. On the PS4 side, a new stick is coming soon that will be able to toggle between the PS3 and the PS4, but that is also about $200.

So, I made the decision to focus on last gen consoles as far as training, with the idea being I would make a bigger investment on sticks for current gen if I actually am progressing.

But even sticks on last gen consoles are super pricey. So on the way home from work one day this week, I stopped by a local mom and pop game shop, where I was able to grab a very nice used stick on the cheap.

I knew that I had access to Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition on PS3, as it had become free for PS Plus subscribers a while back. And my original intention was to start with that game.

But, after doing a little research on fighting games for beginners, I came across a wonderful guide over on–From Masher to Master: The Educated Video Game Enthusiast’s Fighting Game Primer. Written by Patrick Miller, this is a free ebook aimed at people just like me–gamers who want to explore and get better at fighting games. In the book, Patrick suggests starting with Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix as your game to learn on. It was only a $10 download on PSN, so I bought it.

So, I had myself a good stick to learn on, a guide to walk me through the basics, and the game I was going to train with. I was ready to learn.

Next time I’ll write about my first training session.


Fists of Forty or: Can a 40-Year-Old Gamer Learn to Play Fighting Games? (Round 1)

A weird thing happened to me last week. First, I turned forty years old. That wasn’t really the weird part. I mean, I’m not psyched about being forty, but it happens.

Anyway, I found myself watching the Evolution Championship Series (EVO) 2014 streams on Twitch. And like just about everyone else who watches high-level fighting game play but is terrible at fighting games themselves, I lamented the fact that I never stuck with fighting games long enough to get any good at them.

And since I’d been looking for some kind of midlife crisis thing to focus on, I thought “Hey, I should really give this fighting game thing a go.” And by giving it a go I mean really put some time into developing the skills to be at least be decent enough to hold my own with random opponents online, or when I go to comics and gaming conventions and people are playing some of the more popular games.

And so, I decided I was actually going to do this. I was going to make a serious effort to not suck at fighting games. I mean, as far as midlife crises go, I could be trying to recapture my youth in many worse ways, right?

Now, it’s not like I’ve never played a fighting game before. I grew up in arcades (I’m 40, in case I didn’t mention that), so arcade fighters were certainly something I pumped plenty of quarters into. But I never spent enough time with them to really get any good.

I was a freshman in college back in 1992, right after Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Two twin brothers that lived down the hall from me in the dorm had that game running pretty much 24-7. I didn’t get a ton of time with it, as I would get beat pretty regularly, but I eventually was pretty decent with Dhalsim.

Once NHLPA Hockey ‘93 came out though, I moved on from Street Fighter II and never looked back. In 1993, I grabbed Mortal Kombat for the SEGA Genesis on “Mortal Monday,” and my roommates and I played that for the better part of that school year. I was a Johnny Cage guy, and I got good enough to beat my friends on a fairly regular basis.

My longest and final foray into fighting games was the first PlayStation game I bought when I got the console in 1996–Tekken 2. If I remember correctly, there had been a demo of the game on the pack-in disc that came with the console. Either that, or I first played it in a store demo. In any case, that game completely blew me away.

In addition to being a great fighting game, the fact that each character in Tekken 2 had their own cutscene ending gave me a reason to play though with each one. The two characters I settled on for the long haul were Lei Wulong (I was a huge Jackie Chan fan) and Armor King (I was also a huge wrestling fan). I played Tekken 2 regularly for a couple of years, and I could hold my own against pretty much all of my gaming friends at the time. The battles we would have are some of my favorite gaming memories to this day.

But that’s pretty much it. Once I moved in with my wife-to-be (who is not a gamer, except for an addiction to Pandemonium in the early PS One days), I no longer had the couch co-op situation going on, and my time with fighting games was done. I’ve certainly tried to get back into them over the years, whether it be the various Street Fighter entries, Marvel vs. Capcom, and other Tekken installments. But even with ability to play online, I never stuck with any of them.

And so here we are. My goal is simple–for the next year, I will dedicate the majority of my precious gaming time to becoming a competent fighting gamer. I will blog about it here on Co-Op Critics, and I will probably do a few podcasts along the way as well.

Anyone reading this post is welcome to join me, midlife crisis or not.

In my next post, I’ll talk about doing some research, getting the proper equipment, and what game my training will begin with.


Dark Souls II’s Informal Quest System

One of the many things I love about the Souls games is the organic way that quests emerge during a playthrough. There’s no quest system per se, but as you figure out your character build and playstyle, you will find yourself questing for items, spells and upgrades to complement how you are approaching a particular playthrough. This will lead to gaming session where you are not trying to complete a particular level, but rather find an item, or battle an enemy over and over in hopes of getting an item drop.

I have been playing a Hex build for my first time through Dark Souls II, and it’s been an interesting challenge. Because of the hybrid nature of the build (Faith/Int), you don’t really start to become powerful until later on in the game. Hexes require either a certain Faith score or a certain Int score, and certain hexes require different catalysts to cast. These factors are what led to the quest I was on last night–to get a Black Witch’s Staff from the Leydia Witches in Undead Crypt. The Black Witch’s Staff allows you to cast miracles, sorceries and hexes, meaning I would no longer need to switch between spell casting items during combat, and I would only need one equip slot for spell casting.

And so, I ventured back into the Undead Crypt, a very difficult area of the game that I’d completed recently, but needed to revisit, as it is the home of the Leydia Witches. The Leydia Witches are very cool from a lore standpoint. They worship the god of disease, and they can cast multiple forms of magic. They were once good, but abused their power and were killed, their spirits now forced to serve as guardians of the Crypt. From a gameplay standpoint, the witches are very powerful, casting spells that can make quick work of you if they land. When you kill them, there is a chance they will drop a Black witch’s Staff, but no guarantee.

So, my quest was to battle the witches in hopes of getting a staff. Luckily, there is a room not far from the first bonfire in the undead Crypt that houses three Leydia Witches. It also contains four Undead Prisoners, and is an absolute deathtrap if you don’t approach it carefully.

And this is what’s so great about Dark Souls II. This one room became a 45-minute quest for me. Because my character is a spellcaster, running into the room, dodging attacks and meleeing everyone was not an option. The witches are all lined across the far end of the room, and they begin casting Affinity (like homing magic missiles of death) as soon as you enter. Each time I battled them, I had to first lure out the four Undead prisoners and kill them so it was just me and the witches. I then actually had to run past them, dodging attacks along the way, and get to the room behind them to get better position. From there, I used Lightning Bolts and Soul Spears to take them out one by one.

Each run through that room took me about ten minutes, and it wasn’t until my fourth try that I finally got one of them to drop the staff I needed. It was worth it, though.

That’s just one example of the informal quest system that emerges while you play through a Souls game. There will be times where you make suicide runs into areas that are way to difficult, just to grab an item or weapon before dying. The hunt for items, weeapons and upgrades brings you back to areas you’ve already completed. And the type of items or weapons will depend on your build and style, so each playthrough will involve different quests.

This is just another aspect of the brilliant design of the Souls games, and the reason they are so replayable. Over seventy hours in, I’m still questing for odds and ends to perfect my build.

I love this game.

In the video below, you’ll see someone play through the room containing the three withches. This eprson had a much stronger bow than i do, and they smartly used a ranged approach with the witches. The Affinity spell they are casting is awesome, and the reason this person is not taking a lot more damage is beacuse they never take a full hit from one of an entire group of projectiles.


Dark Souls II–Son of A…

The first time you die in Dark Souls II, you unlock an achievement/trophy called “Welcome to Dark Souls.” I got a good chuckle out of that, because of course it’s a nod to the fact that in the Souls series, you die–a lot. For me though, the moment when I achieve the true Souls experience is the first time I want to quit in frustration. That moment happened to me today, at roughly my 60-hour mark into the game, when I face the boss called The Rotten.

The Rotten is a pretty much a giant corpse golem, who attacks you with a giant meat cleaver in an arena filled with burning pools of oil. He’s slow, but extremely powerful, and all it takes is one good swing of that meat cleaver to take me out.

I have died trying to beat this boss three times now, and that’s including when I’ve summoned in help. But what turned my frustration into controller-throwing rage was the way I’ve died the past two times. On each occasion, I had The Rotten down to a last sliver of health, and I’ve died before being able to land the killing blow. I’ve never been so close to beating a boss twice in a row, only to die both times.

I’m actually writing this as I take a break, because I had to walk away from the game. I’ll be diving back in momentarily, but I had to mark this occasion, as it’s the moment in Dark Souls II where the game became a true Souls experience for me.


Dark Souls II–The Plateau

As I approach the 50-hour mark into my first playthrough of Dark Souls II, I’ve hit what I like to think of as “The Plateau.” My character is level 76, and I’m at a point where levels cost enough that I have to really think about where I’m spending my souls (the game’s currency). I’ve also unlocked the ability to really start upgrading some of my gear, which is also an investment that requires a lot of thought.

It’s this point in the game where my character build really starts to come together. I’ve gone with a Hex build, which requires an investment both in Faith and Intelligence, as it’s a hybrid spellcasting class. So, my “go to” spells are getting set, and I’m zeroing in on the armor and weapons I will most likely use for the rest of the game.

During this period, I do a lot of exploring, going back to areas I’ve already cleared and grabbing items I may have missed, as well as dropping my summon sign and letting people bring me in for co-op.

While some players might feel like this part of the game is a grind, I really enjoy it. There aren’t the big and quick jumps in level like the early game, but that’s fine with me. “The Plateau” is where I really get to know my character, and ready myself for the push through the rest of the game.


Dark Souls II–A World of Co-Opportunities

After putting twenty-five hours into Dark Souls II, one of the things that stands out the most to me is how much of an emphasis has been placed on cooperative multiplayer. As someone who really grew to love the co-op in this series, it’s been a great experience for me so far.

From Software has made it easier than ever to engage in co-op, and to customize the type of co-op experience you want to have. From the covenant you join, to your “Soul Memory” (the total number of souls obtained regardless of your character’s level), the game’s goal is to match you up with people who are about as powerful as you so you can play through a level at the appropriate challenge.

For those that don’t really want to deal with summoning or invasions, you can actually “turn off” the multiplayer features by Burning a Human Effigy (a consumable item that can turn you human) at a bonfire. For me though, the multiplayer is one of the most interesting aspects of the Souls series.

I’ve actually been using co-op as a chance to preview a level before I go through it in my own game. I’ll help a few people through the level as a kind of practice, and then make a run through myself.

You can also use co-op as a way to farm for souls, as the developers pretty much did away with the type of farming you could do in the previous game. I actually like this way better, as I’m helping others while I grind to get enough souls to either improve my gear or level my character. The only thing you have to be careful about when doing this is that your Soul Memory continues to increase, and you will eventually move past the level range of most players who are summoning or being summoned in a particular area.

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed is that very few people are taking advantage of the ability to voice chat in Dark Souls II. I haven’t used it, and I haven’t encountered anyone who is using it. I really love the gesture system of communication, and the anonymous nature of the co-op. The gestures this time around are fantastic, and for me voice chat would ruin the atmosphere of the game.

So to recap, thus far I’ve been engaging in a ton of co-op, building up my character and practicing in areas before I make my boss runs. I am getting to the interesting part of my character build now, which I’ll talk more about next time.


Dark Souls II–The First Few Hours

Oh, it’s good to be home again. I have spent so many hundreds of hours with the Souls series over the past few years that there is a familiar comfort in slipping into the world of Dark Souls II. As much as Drangleic is a new setting, it shares so much with what has come before. The biggest difference that I have noticed in my first ten hours with the game is in the approach that I’ve taken to playing it.

I’ve been conditioned by the previous Souls games to know up front that I will be dying regularly in this game, and use each “life” to learn something. The only waste of time in a Souls game is dying needlessly without learning anything new. And I decided before creating my first character in Dark Souls II that I was going to challenge myself to play differently than in past games and explore this game in ways I had not explored the previous one.

So, I started with the Deprived character class, as you are spawned into the world with nothing, and you have no pre-spent levels. It’s the “clean slate” class of the Souls series. Normally, I would start with a spellcaster, because I prefer ranged attacks and the spell you start with makes low level play a bit easier. Not this time. The first enemies I defeated in Dark Souls II were with my bare hands.

The tutorial level is known as Things Betwixt, and for the most part it’s a place to practice with the controls, but there are a few optional, more challenging enemies (Ogres) in the area that you can either brave early, or come back and fight alter. I lured one of these to its death but decided to come back for the others after I had more than a dagger with me.

After the tutorial area, you find yourself in Majula, the main hub area of Dark Souls II. Much like the Nexus in the original Demon’s Souls, this is an area you constantly come back to for leveling, blacksmith access and merchants. NPCs move to this area as you progress through the game. The area itself is beautiful, and is a stark contrast to the murky nature of most levels in the original Dark Souls–it’s bright and wide open.


The first area I decided to trek through from the hub is the Forest of Fallen Giants, and it became immediately apparent that the combat in Dark Souls II was going to be more challenging than its predecessor.

The biggest changed I’ve notice so far are the roaming enemies, and the variety of enemy mobs. In Dark Souls, most enemies were standing in place, waiting for you to aggro them. They were always in the same place, and you knew exactly how close you needed to get in order to pull them to you. In Dark Souls II, many of the enemies are patrolling, which adds almost a stealth element to the game, especially when multiple enemies are present in an area.

And speaking of multiple enemies, there is much more variety to the mobs already in Dark Souls II. You are often facing off against two or three enemies at a time, each with different weapons and attacks. These encounters are much less predictable than what you’d see in the original Dark Souls, and you have less control over the battle itself. This means a smaller margin for error and a bigger emphasis on timing attacks, blocks, etc.

Right now I’ve cleared the way to the boss of the first area, but I’m still exploring the Forest of Fallen Giants, grabbing items and trying to level up a bit. As a deprived, I’ve had to get my Strength and Dexterity up enough to wield basic weapons, and I’ve not leveled my Intelligence up enough to even cast basic spells yet. It makes for more of a grind at the beginning of the game, but so far I like the challenge of having to scavenge for everything as well as having full control over what stats I invest in from the start.

What I absolutely know for sure about Dark Souls II is that I will be putting a few hundred hours into this game, and I’ll be writing a lot more about it on the blog here.

Stay tuned.


Now Playing–Metro: Last Light

I started Metro: Last Light this week and decided to stream a couple sections of the game. In the video below, Artyom gets separated from his newfound friend Pavel when Pavel gets captured. Artyom is trying to find Pavel before his captors kill him.

The video came out pretty dark, as the game is dark and the stream is always a bit muddy. I think you’ll get the gist of what the game play is like, though. Good mixture of stealth and shooting. Feel free to fast forward through the five minutes or so I end up standing in the dark when the guards sound the alarm.

Watch live video from CoopCritics on TwitchTV


There Will Be Streaming

Since I will not be getting a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One anytime soon, I’ve decided that I want to start streaming some of my PS3 and WiiU gaming on Twitch, and posting some videos to YouTube. This is basically as a warm up for when Dark Souls II arrives in March, as I plan on doing some videos and podcasts of the billion hours I plan on spending with that game. I’m also killing two birds with one stone, as I’ve been unable to pull the crew together for Co-Op Critics podcasts as often as I’d like, and this will provide some additional content to be shared here.

After doing some research, I decided to go with the Roxio Game Capture HD. There are some who prefer the Elgato Game Capture HD, but the Roxio was a bit cheaper and got solid reviews, particularly when it came to the editing software included with the device.

I’ll probably record a bit of Minecraft, Dark Souls and Bioshock Infinite streaming on PS3, and on the WiiU, probably some NES Remix and maybe some older games. Again, I’ll likely skip around, as I want to get used to using the device and the editing software. At some point I’m sure I’ll do an actual playthrough, but I’m not ready for that level of commitment yet.

Is there a particular game that people would like to see me play, hit me up on Twitter @SeeBrianWrite, or leave a comment below.