Category Archives: Uncategorized

We’re not happy ’til you’re not happy

screenshot_2At the end of the King of Iron Fist 2016 global finals, Bandai Namco made three announcements pertaining to Tekken 7: they revealed new Line stickers for the mobile messaging application; a collaboration with New Japan Pro Wrestling that will give King a nifty new costume; and the return of Kuma and Panda.

To say that many people were disappointed by the reveals is sort of an understatement. I suspect that many were already dismayed by MarkMan’s tweet earlier in the evening saying that there would be no announcement of a Tekken 7 home release, and as such they were expecting a much bigger character to be revealed. When it turned out to be the bears (a character which, admittedly, has always been something of a joke addition in most games in the series) people got angry.

I understand that there are long-standing character archetypes missing from Tekken 7 as it currently stands. Both capos and a member of the Chang family are missing, and Lei players are wondering if there will be anything for them in the new title. That being said, Kuma has been a part of the Tekken series since the original game and there are bear players who were excited—myself included—about the announcement.

It’s a bit like Guilty Gear Xrd when it first released. Many players like myself were without characters in the first iteration of Xrd, and many of us moved to other characters (even if only temporarily). But as the cast had expanded and more characters return to the fold, I’ve been glad to see fellow players get their main choice back. While there is definitely a tipping point as to when a game has too many characters—Tag 2 might have found it—more often than not more options is a good thing.

And that’s what makes it disheartening to see this negative reaction. I felt the same way when the fake Baiken leak hit the GG community and plenty of people were talking about how they never want her back in Gear. Maybe a reveal isn’t what you wanted or hoped for, and maybe a matchup is annoying. But in most cases, a new character is a good thing for a game and is likely giving someone at least a little bit of happiness.

Maybe just let them have it, you know?

SNK and the problem of information

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At roughly 5 a.m. CST, SNK released the first information since October for a King of Fighters XIV world championship event that will have its first leg in two months. And yet I am still left wondering when and where the other world championship qualifiers are going to be held.

This has been the problem since the tournament was announced. SNK has grandiose intentions, but its unwillingness or inability to provide some of the more basic details for its event, like a schedule, makes the company look like it actually hasn’t planned this championship at all. Giving players two months to qualify for an event they did not know was coming up so fast, when they may need to take vacation and/or purchase flights to attend qualifier events, is ill-advised. I wonder just how many strong players may not qualify simply because they do not have the time or resources on such short notice.

That is the type of consideration that needs to be made when planning this kind of event. Capcom Cup and the King of Iron Fist Tournament were both not always 100 percent transparent on how the finals of the event would be run, and sometimes the qualification process of the Capcom Pro Tour seemed confusing, but players were given plenty of time to adjust their schedules for qualification attempts. Thus, the participants at each event have been some of the very best in the world, and players had ample chance to compete.

And that’s really the point of these world championship tournaments in the first place. They are showcases for the best players in the world, an excellent source of PR where the competitive aspects of the game are put on display. Big tournaments like this not only show the playbase how much the company values love of the title, but it also gives new players a reason to want to play the game. In being so disorganized in its approach, SNK may be losing out on that PR power.

In the end, the KOF XIV World Championship will still likely be a highly competitive spectacle. As long as the event is executed and broadcast with minimal issues, it’s likely the company will see it as a success. SNK is, after all, just getting back into the whole fighting game development thing. However, it’s important to note that this whole process, from the first announcement to today’s, has left the more skeptical observers with little reassurance that everything is going to work out. And given SNK’s reintroduction into the market, those are the people they need to win over most.

Let’s talk about Smash, baby

melee-1I have to admit that I’m no expert on competitive Smash in any format. I’ve always enjoyed the series from a casual perspective, but beyond that I’m left asking those who do know for their thoughts and opinions on myriad topics. What I do know something about, however, is remakes and remasters of classic games. And that’s why I thought I’d put some thoughts to computer screen today.

In case anyone missed it, rumors are flying that Nintendo Switch will have GameCube Virtual Console support and that Smash Melee will be one of the first games. On one hand, this is a great thing for casual players who don’t want to break out their GC every time they wanna relive the old days or for folks who don’t wanna pay the high price for a used copy of the title. On the other, however, this creates a competitive dilemma for Melee in terms of what version of the game the scene will use going forward.

On the surface, it seems a pretty simple choice: stay the course and keep playing on GC. The Switch port will almost assuredly have differences—even small ones—as well as some lag due to the jump from standard definition to high definition, and players already have all the equipment needed to play the game. This is not a Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix situation, where the game was not widely available so the community had to make a tough choice.

That being said, what happens if Nintendo decides to formally support the competitive Melee scene when the new release comes out, and only allows use of the Switch remake? Then the situation becomes a little trickier. The idea of alternating versions between events is never fun and only leads to complaints and division, as use of arcade boards versus remasters has shown in the Third Strike, ST and Vampire Savior scenes. Heck, the fighting game scene at large even had to choose Xbox 360 as the official tournament standard for Street Fighter IV and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for similar reasons.

Hopefully I’m just worrying about things that won’t happen: perhaps Nintendo won’t really care, or the Smash scene could choose to adopt a new version like UMvC3 is currently trying to do. Either way, it would be nice if a new release of an old game was not a cause for alarm like it always seems to be in fighters.

The Squared Circle

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(Writer’s note: The use of Shawn Michaels and his character does create an unintended false equivalence, as there are very few women who get the same privilege he did to become more than his wardrobe)

The last couple days have left me perplexed at reactions to the beta of Street Fighter V. Although R. Mika’s super animation has been changed in the most recent version of SFV, I can’t really say I was expecting the kind of uproar that some people have given it. And as a 20-year wrestling fan, it’s one I can’t really understand.

So just to get the easy answer to the situation out of the way, Derek Daniels pointed out on Twitter that a beta is going to change and those outside the process may never find out why.

The slightly more complicated explanation involves understanding how pro wrestling has and continues to affect games development—not just fighters—in Japan.

My earliest memories of wrestling influencing non-wrestling video games are of Andre the Giant being an enemy in Final Fight (and later transformed into Hugo in the Street Fighter series) and Big Van Vader being immortalized by both Capcom AND SNK as Alexander the Grater in Muscle Bomber (Saturday Night Slam Masters in the U.S.) and Raiden/Big Bear in the Fatal Fury series, respectively. In fact, since the earliest days of fighting games, characters have stolen holds and signature moves from televised matches while adding their own impossible feats into the mix.

A great example of this is Alex’s Boomerang Raid super in Third Strike, which I thought looked silly for years until I started watching New Japan Pro Wrestling and realized that his punch-chop-punch-chop offense is EXACTLY the type of thing wrestlers working Strong Style (a method of pro wrestling that focuses more on actual contact between grapplers than on the safety of the work) do to each other all the time.

So let’s fast forward a bit to Rainbow Mika. Mika is definitely wearing a ridiculous costume in Alpha 3, but for anyone who has watched pro wrestling in the last 20 years that is par for the course for women wrestlers. Even her Flying Peach move, the move that many people see as the most ridiculous or over-the-top, is a normal attack in Japanese wrestling. Hip or butt strikes are not as common as a lariat or suplex, but Ryusuke Taguchi and KANA (who has now signed with WWE and is known as Asuka) both use the attacks. Even in the U.S., Naomi on WWE’s main roster uses the butt attack as a finishing move.

Now that I’ve established just a small bit of history, let’s talk about the edits in question. In the original animation, players could clearly see Mika pat her ass, but now the camera angle has been switched so this is not visible. Breaking this down in terms of wrestling and its mannerisms, Mika was merely signalling the forthcoming move. Wrestlers have often telegraphed their finishing move with a special gesture, many time involving the body part they will use to attack. For example, in modern WWE Roman Reigns cocks his fist like a shotgun before he delivers the Superman Punch and John Cena waves his hand in front of his face before hitting the Five-Knuckle Shuffle (quick aside, but amazing they changed Cena’s other key move, the FU, into the Attitude Adjustment over the years but left the masturbation reference). In days gone by, Shawn Michaels would stomp his foot to signal the superkick, Perry Saturn would lock his hands to signal for the Rings of Saturn (a submission hold) and the list goes one. It’s very possible that Mika’s motion was simply a send-up of this tendency. And it could also be the reason the motion is now invisible.

In pro wrestling, kayfabe is the art of keeping up the facade that everything you see in the ring is real, including wrestlers keeping character when not performing. It’s largely a lost art these days, due to the Internet and social media making it very tough for people to not see through the act, but some wrestlers still do try. For Mika, maybe it was decided that an action that could come off so overtly sexual, even if unintended, was not part of her character. Mika is played mostly as a struggling upstart, a character played partly for comedy but also showing a genuine heart for competition much like NXT’s recent success Bayley. And while Mika’s costume is much more overtly sexual than Bayley’s, a wrestling character is not always defined by the clothes they wear.

Shawn Michaels, for example, basically portrayed a male stripper—although it was never said on TV—when he started his singles career, complete with entrance music that referred to him as a “boy toy.” While he did appear vain and seem to care about his looks early on, he eventually dropped that aspect of the character but kept his stripper-esque outfits and entrance music.

Maybe someone at Capcom decided to change Mika’s super because they never expected the reaction it got, and decided to change it rather than her character. Or maybe I’m overthinking the whole thing. Who knows.

Prescience

Roughly nine months ago I started to work on an article about how social media has changed fighting games. I wanted to talk about scene businesses, the power of Twitter and how sites like Facebook had made it easier for people to get into the scene than in the past. I also, however, wanted to touch on the bad aspects of social media: the whining, the divisiveness and the harassment. In fact, at the time a number of women in fighting games were receiving threats of sexual assault and death, something that continues to happen even as I write this post.

Maybe all those things were too much to try and tackle with a relatively short article (about 1700 words), or perhaps my first draft wasn’t that great, but either way after some dispute the article got spiked. I was pretty dismayed at the time because I thought ALL the interviews had provided some good insight into the ways the scene has changed since social media took off, but it’s quite possible I was biting off a bit more than I was ready to chew at the time. Either way, I moved on.

Fast forward to now, and a number of things that were said in interviews then keep coming back to me as I watch my feeds. “I was very much a proponent of the use of real names on Twitter, Facebook and the most powerful of our social medias… Youtube. I’ve had a change of heart, well, until proven otherwise,” said one of the people I talked to for the story, citing the real violence that has come from what some would consider “harmless trolling” on the web. They continued:

“Every day since I’ve been blogging in 2008, I’m called [a slur]. My twitter & my blog are public and those two connective lines has a certain group determined to let me know just how much of a big fan they are.”

For anyone who has seen the spectre of GamerGate loom over video games in the last several months, this daily—if not hourly—harassment for people online has become the norm. And anyone who has bothered to stand up to that harassment normally becomes the next victim.

“When your identity is fully exposed on the internet, it can make you a target for harassment. If you are … (basically anything considered a minority in the FGC), that is exposed in your profile. People typically won’t harass you on Facebook because they themselves have their identity exposed too, but they can use that info to bully you elsewhere where they are still anonymous (ask.fm, stream chat, /r/kappa, other forums, etc.),” said another player.

Frankly, it sucks that I’m sitting here writing this post. Almost a year later, and somehow the harassment of people on the margins has INCREASED online instead of remaining the same or—optimistic, I know—decreasing. And in some ways, it’s partially my fault. I didn’t pay attention to the writing on the wall. Instead of continuing to chase that story and making sure that it got printed, I let it fall into the bin and get discarded.

That’s the opposite of what journalists are supposed to do. So this is my (in)formal apology. I’m going to try to do better. I’m going to try and help marginalized people in the scene get their message out just as I try with smaller games and their players. I’m going to be more willing to deal with criticism in the face of conflict. And next time I’m chasing a story I think has some real value to the scene, I’m not going to let it just drop.

I know I’ll fuck up a lot of times along the way, but I’ll give it my best shot; that’s all I can do.

Conflicting Interests

I’ve written a lot about gaming and journalism on my Twitter account, but it’s always in pieces and probably a bit scatterbrained; that’s not surprising since I think the myriad topics that converge under the heading “games journalism” are not easily spoken of on a small format like Twitter. In fact, each piece of the overall puzzle can easily span thousands upon thousands of words under its own merits before the writer could even begin to discuss how it converges with the other parts. With that in mind, just sitting down to write a larger (blogs are now larger) post about gaming journalism is a bit daunting. And that’s not because there isn’t a lot to say; sadly, it’s that there is so much someone could easily miss. So this is my out, my get-out-of-jail-free card, it you will: I’m only going to touch one piece of the puzzle, and likely do it in a very brief manner. After all, no newspaper would likely commit more than 15 inches to a story about games journalism.

Games writing is and has always been a segment of journalism the industry refers to as “enthusiast press.” The initial groups that put together ‘zines and then publications about games were always fans first, not reporters given a beat or assigned to a story. And that’s a pretty normal concept for magazines and publications in the arts/media in the U.S.; plenty of big-time, established names like Rolling Stone started because people wanted to write more about the things they love. But the problem for almost all of these publications when they’re starting out is twofold:

1. They necessarily have a niche audience (which is normally only a small piece of that niche)
2. They have roughly zero credibility

And given that most of these publications are not started by Bill Gates, money is always at a premium; maybe not when the first issue rolls off the shelves, but money eventually catches up to everyone. Money is of course earned in two main ways, through advertising and increasing sales of the publication. For video games, on paper both of these jobs are fairly easy: there are always new games coming out that companies want to advertise, and there is always new content that can draw readers in because of those games. Now, the problem comes when those concepts intersect with established norms of journalistic ethics.

The problems of games journalism are tied into that need for money (obviously). If the magazine pulls good advertising revenue from a company like EA, there is always pressure (even if unsaid) on writers at the publication to NOT ATTACK EA. This is because 1. EA is probably providing free copies of its games to the publication (saving money!), 2. EA could pull its advertising dollars due to bad press, and 3. Irritating EA will not likely grant any scoops in terms of new game announcements or early-build previews (which are the very things that will draw people to your publication!)

To break this down a bit more, I’m going to go in order:

1. Gaming sites and magazines and, hell, even Youtube celebrities (I’d wager) are given free copies of the games they review. This is a well-known fact and nobody even tries to hide it. On that fact alone, several possible conflicts of interest can arise. Maybe the reviewer is more likely to be less harsh regarding a game he paid nothing for, or perhaps (for smaller publications) editorial is trying to leverage making sure this company sends another game after this one. These can both be cut out by purchasing all the games on your own, but for many sites that is simply not economically feasible. However, even if it were feasible your publication then runs into the problem that everyone who is getting the game from the company is getting an early copy, which they can have a review ready by the day the games releases. So, in that way you’re doubly losing already: you’re losing money paying for games, and losing eyeballs because all your competitors are beating you to the story.

2. This is easily the simplest of the three, and anybody who remembers the Kane & Lynch fiasco that ended with Jeff Gerstmann leaving Gamespot already knows how this can play out. For those who don’t, the short story is that Eidos had taken out big advertising space on Gamespot for K&L, and Gerstmann was set to review it. According to Gerstmann, his overall opinion of the game was “softened” by editorial at GS out of fear that Eidos would pull their site-wide ads and so he quit GS and eventually founded Giant Bomb. It’s important to remember that advertisers have the power everywhere: most publications rely on a combination of ad revenue mixed with sales to make a profit (online it’s basically only ads). You simply cannot piss off every advertiser (in most cases) and expect to stay afloat, without some form of revenue taking its place.

3. I think a lot of people who read gaming magazines and websites hardly think about this one. Access is and has always been a huge part of journalism; who has access in most cases has the power. This is especially true in the mainstream media in terms of the U.S. political/military systems. This is probably best exemplified by the scandal involving former CIA head David Petraeus who had an affair with his biographer (and former New York Times, and Boston Globe-published writer) Paula Broadwell. Now, this situation can be looked at in several ways.

The quickest way to look at this story is that Broadwell was simply “sleeping with the enemy,” and most ethical journalists should be able to avoid that. However, reality is a lot more complicated than that. In order to get the scoops that your paper/mag/site needs to stay ahead of the competition, it pays to be cordial to the people/companies you cover—this is pretty obvious. Over time, though, when reporters and subjects see each other every day a rapport gets built; the line between professional courtesy and personal relationship starts to blur. At this point, a reporter should recuse themselves from the story, as they are starting to become the story. But, again, access is power and a newspaper/site/mag will always go to the experienced correspondent who has a full Rolodex instead of hoping that a junior reporter can pull the big story out in short notice. It’s simply smart business.

The only other option is to try and strip that away, to construct a solid wall between reporters/writers and the people they cover. But then how does a publication build credibility? To get the inside scoop, whether it be playing an early build of the game in a private showing or even playing the game early at E3, the publication needs to have the brand strength to make companies want that coverage. And how does a publication have brand strength without coverage that can compare to sites willing to hedge their ethics a bit? YouTube performers have touched on some possible avenues to avoid this, through viral marketing, but almost no major publication has any qualms blurring the lines.

So, in the end, you’re left with a catch-22: you can’t get readers because you don’t have the content, you don’t have the content because you want to uphold journalistic ethics, and yet because you’re upholding your ethics you don’t have any readers. But if you DO get the content and the readers you’ve sold out the very ethics you hoped to uphold.

Of course this is not zero-sum game anymore. Crowd-funding and the aforementioned YouTube have allowed some people/publications to get off the ground without big corporate sponsorship. However, crowd-funding is a tenuous means of supporting a business, AND brings its own questions about conflicts of interest. In fact, all journalism that is paid for brings these questions. The only conflict-free journalism—at its face—is journalism that is not paid for in any way. But if that’s the case, no reporter/writer could ever support themselves. Hell, a lot can’t now.

AFDJ

I didn’t want this post to sound alarmist and paranoid, but I think that no matter the words I use it will. With that in mind, I’m just going to go ahead and say it:

Smash players, don’t quit your day jobs yet.

That seems a pretty obvious piece of advice, and yet really cynical if one thinks about it. Smash is currently riding a tide of mainstream popularity that it has not seen before in competitive gaming. To start, Melee was one of the best and biggest games at Evolution 2013: the quality of play, along with an amazing crowd presence made it fun for even non-players to enjoy; it’s of course returning to the big stage again this year (with blessings from Nintendo). Next, MLG has added Smash to its roster of games, putting a bigger spotlight on the title. Third, Nintendo is not only supporting Smash by offering competitive modes in the upcoming sequel for WiiU and 3DS, it is throwing a special exhibition tournament at E3 this year. And lastly, many Smash players are being picked up by big-name sponsors. These facts all added to the strength of Smash at both local and regional tournaments make it a great time to be a part of the Smash community. That’s without putting a spotlight on the Smash documentary and the great work by community members to make the game more accessible.

However, support can change like the winds and I hope the Smash community is prepared for that possible eventuality. Other parts of the fighting game community have seen it first-hand, from the short-lived compLexity sponsorships of Tekken players during the game’s run at MLG in 2010 to the dwindling number of supported players now. Companies such as Monster have come and gone from FGC streams. The vast majority of players still can’t live off fighting games, even as the competition gets stronger and wider. In short, stability in fighters is not a reality now and the future is still shaky.

And that’s all I really want to get across. For those whose hard work is finally paying off, congratulations, you all deserve it. And for those who are trying to break into that upper echelon of talent in Smash, maybe now there are some concrete rewards. But, as many of us have said in the past, one should not try to hang their hopes on an uncertain future without a backup plan.

That said, I have been wrong many times before, so maybe this is only going onward and upward from here. The FGC in general is only more “official” than it was last year, and while individual player support may be down, company support—or at least support from the companies who make the games—is up in a big way. Maybe 2014 is the year that fighters break into the mainstream for good. Now THAT would be a story I’d love to write.

But I prefer not to assume that all the good news is here to stay, because no boom comes without an eventual bust.