September 2008

Why is MK fighting DC?

(Or, Mortal Kombat : 1-3, apathy : every other game of the series)

Everyone scratched their heads when the game Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe was announced. Everyone thought it was pretty dumb. The question I’m asking, and hopefully answering, is ‘why’? Why did we all, myself included, look at this idea, and just turn away? When you think to ask the question, I think it’s pretty obvious, and I don’t mean “the notion of these properties crossing over is dumb,” we’ve all overlooked far stupider things in games and loved them beyond belief.

What I’m talking about is two places where the Mortal Kombat series fell apart for me. Fighting(MK5) and story(MK4.) “Worried about the story in a fighting game?! That’s insane!” Yeah, I know. I’m not trying to say that it was Dostoevsky or anything, I’m just saying that it ‘worked’. But let me tackle the fighting first.

MK5 (Deadly Alliance) was the first to give each fighter a completely different movelist. Prior to this, everyone’s punches was the same, everyone’s kicks were the same, and everyone’s movement speeds and jumping were exactly. the. same. This was wonderful.

In a typical fighting game some characters are drastically overpowered, some are inherently flawed when used against other certain characters, and some are perfectly balanced. Imagine a chess game where each player has a completely random set-up, some have rooks on the front row, some have their king there, sometimes your king is directly across from an opponent’s rook/queen and it’s almost impossible for you to win, and sometimes? Sometimes you start with three queens. It all depends on both who you choose, and wh you’re fighting. That’s a normal fighting game.

Mortal Kombat 1-4 took a far different approach that was much closer to traditional chess. All of the characters had a first row of pawns, for one. That’s to say that all of the non-special moves were exactly the same. On the back row, however, you start with (roughly) similar layouts, but with changes in location. Sure, the ocassional character is a little stronger or weaker than the rest, but it’s not so insanely disproportionate as the previous system, and it’s usually far more obvious due to lack of complexity.

So, yeah, it was limited, but it was, to me, far more fun.

The story? Well, it just seemed to grow more and more disparate and whimsical.

Typically in fighting games ‘stories’ are only a combination of context and character biographies/endings. (I’m not saying that they can’t be better, but this is all gamers require to consider a fighter to ‘have a story,’ is all I mean.) Imagine a series of threads, a few overlapping in places, but conjoining into a common weave for the game’s duration, and then fraying out again with each thread being each character’s ending. That’s how the minimum writing in fighting games usually works.

For sequels the developer traditionally picks one of the ending threads, decides it’s the ‘correct’ one and fashions a new story. This means they have to bridge the initial threads of returning characters (often including elements of those characters ending threads, chosen one or not,) AND tie in new threads introduced in new characters. Then of course they also have to create new ending threads for all of the characters. The fact that each character has his own thread that weaves throughout the game series opens the possibility for mind-numbing over-complexity, and bet your ass that Midway took this chance to wreak havoc with the MK world.

I’m used to reading comics, so when a character that’s existed for forty years says that he got his powers ten years ago, despite the fact that I’ve read his book for ten years, it doesn’t bother me a bit. I ‘get it’. But why the fuck is Noob Saibot really Sub-Zero I? Why bother killing him off and creating Sub-Zero II at all if he’s going to effectively be the same guy? Why go from a kumite in MK1 to an inter-dimensional war in MK3 if all the gods that held the kumite were in on it to begin with? Just declare war from the get-go.

I understand that the large array of characters was, hell, IS a draw, but seriously, wtf. It’s not like DC comics started out with the intent to become so convoluted as to require Infinite Crisis (much less Final Crises.) But MK seems hellbent on taking minimal requirements for storytelling and making me shake my head and just walk away in disgust. In ending, they really just need to reboot the series.

*In Brett’s Footnotes fashion let me note that I fully plan to give more thought to a class-based chess game now. Also, sorry, I lied, this wasn’t about MMOs, but I do have a notion swirling around in el cabesa, it’s just not coming out yet.

That Thing...

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Last Time, Honest.

Last time I’ll mention the piracy thing (for the forseable future.)

EA, of all people, has absolutely no excuse for not having their own digital delivery system up and running. Shit, that medium-sized developers aren’t doing this themselves is a fucking travesty as far as I’m concerned. Valve’s given everyone the ability to make their own Steam, if you’ll recall. It’d just take an extra guy to get it up and running, I’d imagine.

Often retailers (and even renters,) will break street dates. When this happens, retailers who haven’t broken the date contact the publisher, and say “So and so broke the date. Check it, because we’re going to as well. We can’t afford to lose all of our sales to them, because their math says they’ll come out ahead by breaking the rules.” The distributer/publisher then checks to confirm the story, and if this is true, they give the okay for everyone else to break the date as well (and often punish the initial violator.)

I just can’t be convinced that EA can’t publish games online. They’re a publisher. It’s what they’re supposed to do. What am I missing here? Hell, Microsoft and Sony should be doing this. The moment the ‘download date’ was proven broken, EA should have had Spore online on their EA Shop for everyone everywhere to download. That headline would’ve dwarfed the news about the cracked version available online. “Why bother pirating it,” gamers would ask “when I’ll probably end up buying it anyway? Go ahead and save the re-download time by buying it the first time, and have my friends already in my gamer list for auto-downloadig of their creatures.” Besides, I’m betting Valve games have a much lower rate of piracy than most PC games, and gamers are (by far and large) okay with Steam, now that the kinks have been worked out for a few years. And I’ve heared nothing but good things about Direct2Drive. Though, honestly, developers should be doing this for themselves.

I just can’t feel overly sorry for a developer getting hurt by a publisher forcing them to put anti-piracy tools in their game. It’s the bed of their own making, really. Last post I mentioned gamers downloading shareware off of BBS’; the original digital distribution. Well, it’s 2008 and developer distribution has never been easier (now bedroom coders don’t even have to physically mail disks to users.) Refusal to make self-publishing a priority, or even demanding the power in the developer-publisher relationship, gets developers treated like the lesser in the relationship, and that’s just a lessong they need to learn. I mean, Valve? They get it. If another developer can’t prioritize their publishing deals, then let them falter, and let them fail.

Though, the first person to use Steamworks to create an online publisher? That person will make some serious money.

Okay, done with that topic for the foreseeable future, enough armchair-CEOing over Riccitelo. Next up? MMO payment plans! Yay!

Electronic Arts
Gaming's future

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Piracy Wins. … Again.

So, days before Spore hit store shelves, with its controversial DRM, it’s been cracked. Whoops.

To continue to harp on a previous point of mine, the Games Industry needs to figure out how to better commodify their art (that being ‘interaction’.) Gamers, moreso than any other group of media consumers, are technologically savvy. TV, film, music… Every other group’s lower savvy presents, relatively, a higher collective barrier for its consumers to partake in piracy and the likes. Gamers? We STARTED this shit by downloading shareware off of BBS’. Torrents are as easy as a TV remote, p2p is laughable, and even newsgroups are child’s play, to be honest. If you want to stop gamers from pirating your product, then you have to figure out a way to make games impiratable, (yes, I just created a word (at least in the English language.)) Good luck with that.

On the other hand, consider how many gamers have heard about Spore’s DRM and will now say “Eh, I’ll just pirate it.” I mean, the online component of downloading animals can be ‘gotten around’ by just downloading the thumbnails of pals’ creations anyway. It’s silly, how developers insist on shooting themselves in the foot like this.

Electronic Arts
Gaming's future
teh Funny

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