That Thing…

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.

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Tackling “The List,” and Dwarf Fortress

I intend to get a ‘to do’ list widget, but until then, I’ll post here that I’m firmly aiming to do a Nintendo DS game. In fact, I’ve already ordered the R4 card. But until that gets here, I intend to dedicate this weekend completely to Dwarf Fortress.

I love that insane game with all of my ACII-art lovin’ heart, but I’ll be damned if the tiny window it uses doesn’t make my eyes well screaming for relief from deciphering one tiny mark from the next. The creator has said in an interview in which he talks about ‘losing’ his own project, saying: “I’m leery about third party interfaces. If a third party interface becomes popular, I think I might lose control of the project. I don’t want to be in a position where I have to accommodate and work with other people.” That’s a pretty scary notion, and one worth worrying about.

But at the same time, when my eyes hurt trying to play the game, it’s pretty hard to say that everything’s okay. I mean, I’m not saying I want 3d, or even a tileset, I just want it larger, so that I can see the stuff, y’know? Ahhh well.

But DF has something special. That thing; that “special something.” It does exactly what I want to see games do, tackle data complexity over graphical complexity. I want to be able to chop a bed up into its components, and breed war dogs, and when enemies (be they goblins or attacking wildlife,) enter your fortress, close the gates and flood the entrance with water through a system of levers that leaves your foe lying dead on the soggy ground.

Like Crysis goes to graphical extremes, and Grand Theft Auto goes to physics-interactive world exploration extremes, Dwarf Fortress juggles data like no other game out there, and it’s a shame that no one’s decided to back this guy, and hire him an additional coder to work with him (or some type of help that he’d have, anyway.) I mean, I could only imagine if a few other programmers were put under him and he was still given creative control.

Gaming's future
Project X
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The Clothes (Should) Make The Man

(Or: Nice suit, everyone.)

Stylistically speaking, clothes in WoW are completely unimportant. Now sure, they have to fit in with the rest of the game (though, that’s a pretty low bar) and you’ll always have people talking about how kickass Set A looks on Race 2, or how Set B’s helmet looks better than Set A’s does… But given the choice, nearly all players choose the same gear; that with higher stats. Players make logical choices based on what they’ll need and simple numbers dictate the outcome. If a MMO’s world is ever going to be important, then player involvement in world status matters, and a large part of that is the visual style. I think one way to encourage players to get a sense of style, and self, is to handle gear closer to how Oblivion does it, than WoW.

In Oblivion the amount of damage a weapon does or defense armor provides is given a rating, from one to ~twenty. That’s it. I think encouraging players to go after gear that goes closer to their personal taste makes the players care about their avatars because of their representation of self rather than the amount of time put into creation (though that could certainly still apply.) Oblivion has enchantments and weapons can be made stronger with them, but that’s largely negligible (or should be toned down in a shared world.)

Essentially, I’d like to shift the onus on gear-fixation from statistical to personal preference. Why? Why not? If you’re a player, you get to exhibit personal taste and stay competitive. If you’re a developer, you get to see what your users prefer.

Bonus points: Allow players to create their own gear and submit it for anonymous peer review before passing it on to developers for the final thumbs up.

Next up? Why this isn’t such a bad idea.

FYI, this is part of a series of posts. You’ll be able to read more lame opinions on MMOs here.

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