Category Archives: Commentary

Retro Shooter Preview Round Up

Man, I know it’s been a frustratingly long hiatus. I’ve been working overtime at my job most weeks over the last several months. This has limited my free time, so I’ve ended up focusing more on my Twitch channel over the blog. Over there I play a wide variety of stuff as well as a fair amount of Splatoon 2. But lately I have been going through a number of FPS games in Early Access. Some interesting preview builds of games that hearken back to the early days of Apogee and id software. Being that they aren’t done, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend getting them right now. One of the risks in buying anything in Early Access is that there’s no guarantee the games will be done. And this isn’t the most original idea for an article as several bloggers and YouTube creators have made similar ones. Be that as it may, these are some of the ones I’ve found pretty interesting upon buying. Games you may want to keep your eyes on.

Of course, the resurrection of what many consider the original shooter formula isn’t new. They’ve been slowly coming out for a while. New Blood Interactive has been hitting it out of the park with games like DUSK and AMID EVIL, but we’ve seen plenty of other games too like the Rise Of The Triad 2013 remake, Ion Fury, and others. Anyway, these are of the preview versions I rolled the dice on, and some of my thoughts on them after playing them.

Prodeus

This is one of the most promising of the bunch here. If you really enjoyed the DOOM 2016 remake or it’s DOOM II: Hell On Earth inspired sequel DOOM ETERNAL, but wished it hearkened back to the old games a little more, this could be for you. What makes this one stand out? Well it has the DOOM 2016 look in terms of its world. It also has a similarly streamlined layout in terms of maps. Things are a bit more linear than they were in 1993, but it still retains some of the colored keys and secret hunting. But it also blurs the line more than the official Bethesda/id/Microsoft property does because you can have the enemies represented as either fully rendered models or you can choose to see 2D sprites! And while there isn’t quite enough there for a full campaign yet, the game does have a level editor and many fans have already done a bunch of fantastic community maps. The game also does an interesting Super Mario World style overworld map, showing you what you’ve beaten, and if you’ve found specific exits for secret levels.

ULTRAKILL

New Blood Interactive is one of those publishers that does appear to finish their Early Access projects, and all of them have been must play experiences so far. DUSK and AMID EVIL are two acts that are going to be tough to follow. But ULTRAKILL seems poised to do pretty well for itself. Where DUSK combined Quake’s aesthetics and gameplay and Deliverance’s unsettling backwoods horror, ULTRAKILL pushes the low polygon retro look further. Where AMID EVIL brought back the Heretic/Hexen feel that has languished, ULTRAKILL brings in elements seen in all kinds of games, old and new. It has a melee system that is tied to its health system. You punch away projectiles. Punch enemies so they’ll bleed on you and fill your health meter. But it also has a creative kill system in the vein of PlatinumGames’ Mad World, or People Can Fly’s work on Bulletstorm. You continually have to dash out of the way of projectiles one moment, and find creative ways to take out waves of enemies the next. If all of that isn’t enough for you, stages are chock full of secrets and the game already has several secret stages that each play absolutely nothing like the rest of the game. It’s also got an interesting yet popcorn storyline. Mankind is dead. Blood is fuel. Hell is full. The soundtrack is also this nice rush of industrial metal and techno subgenres.

Viscerafest

Like ULTRAKILL this game also has an importance on dashing and punching. But for different reasons. Instead of being creative for point awards, and continually refueling your health meter, this game has you doing it for survival and resource conservation. You see each stage only has so many ammunition pickups. So if you go full Lundgren on every alien you see, you won’t have the buckshot you need to kill a larger enemy type, or destroy a damaged wall to get that secret item you spy on the other side through a window. Another cool thing about this game is the save system. Instead of going full old-school and giving you a quick save function or rather than go full new school and implement a checkpoint system, they give you beacons. These beacons are limited, and found throughout levels. You can then plant one on the ground to create your own checkpoints. This is to keep you from cheesing your way to the top by quick saving every time you kill something. And it also keeps you from having to redo something you had trouble with clearing. You have to be careful though, because you can plant one too early and still have to redo a tough monster closet, or too late and miss something important. The game also has a unique art style as like Prodeus before, you have sprite based enemies and pickups. There’s no option to switch to models, but it works for the anime and Blake Stone: Aliens Of Gold pixel art blend they have going on. (Well I was reminded of Blake Stone anyway.) Cut scenes are done in these fantastically done animatics (Think Street Fighter V’s cinemas) while in-game graphics have everyone looking fresh out of an Apogee PC shooter circa 1993.

This one also throws in some sarcastic one-liners with its protagonist. Like Shelly in Ion Fury, Caroline here will do the same. Unlike Shelly, Caroline is far more psychotic. She relishes blowing away bad guys, eating the hearts they leave behind when they’re punched into giblets, and causing mayhem. There’s a lot more dark humor here, and the game never tries to be something it isn’t. It also has a rather fantastic Industrial Metal and Electronica soundtrack. This one by Michael Markie. The game only has one episode done, but the final game looks like it will have three based on what the current build’s hub level looks like. There are also a ton of skulls to collect throughout the stages, and it looks like there will be a place in the hub level for you to use them at some point. I really enjoyed playing through this game’s build. So I’m hoping the full game lives up to the first episode. The one bug I ran into (one that disables all of your weapons except the pistol) is apparently already being worked on. So the developers have been going out of their way to talk to players which is a positive sign.

Maximum Action

Maximum Action is an odd case. It started out nicely enough to intrigue New Blood, even getting partnered at one point. Then they were mysteriously dropped and the updates seemed to trickle. The game was picked up by Balloon Moose Games and carried on. A few days ago a major update finally dropped, adding a new stage and cleaning up a few things as well as changing composers. The game hasn’t excited me the way the others have, but there is a really cool hook here, and that is each level is a different movie scene. You basically play through the stage as pretend Dolph Lundgren, and at the end you can watch the replay. Which is pretty cool. And so the scenery of each stage is inspired by different action genres. Some have you doing James Bond style stealth missions. Others have you blowing away 80s drug dealers like the protagonist of a 1987 direct to VHS vehicle. And each stage also works as a sort of puzzle game as you have to figure out which bad guy to take out in which order. Or where certain bad guys enter a scene. Or when a vehicle will tear through. So it’s like a cross between Hotline Miami and Duke Nukem 3D. There are some goofy bugs though, particularly in the game’s playback feature where you can watch your performance. Here’s hoping this one can come out with some major fixes, because there is a really fun idea underneath it all. The Goldeneye 007 era blocky enemies are also entertaining.

HROT

HROT is another game that takes inspiration from the original Quake. It’s got the similar brown, drab palette. What really sets this one apart though isn’t just the Eastern European horror show it puts on display. It’s set in Czechoslovakia during the 1980s and the story centers around some mysterious activity. It’s entirely coded by one guy in Pascal. That in of itself is quite impressive. It’s also got some fantastic level design, on par with the classic id game. And like DUSK it does a lot with very little. It’s a bit on the short side as of now, but it’s one hell of a short ride.

WRATH: Aeon Of Ruin

3DRealms is publishing this one by KillPixel and what stands out on this one is that it is actually being made in id Software’s original Quake engine. But it does diverge from the Quake mold a bit. After all Quake II skewed the series purely into action, while Quake set things up in more of a dark, foreboding adventure mold for a possible continuation of its story. While Wrath doesn’t completely do that as it still has plenty of monster closets to deal with it does change things up a bit. Similar to Viscerafest you’ll need to collect items to create checkpoints. You’ll find a wide variety of different weapons to dispatch monsters with. The game also takes the hub world approach with different areas opening up levels to go through. Think in the vein of something like the original RAGE. There’s a fair amount of variety in terms of the different environments too. And despite the focus on exploration over action, there is still plenty of action. You’ll come away from many firefights on your last legs, praying you’ll find some health and ammo before finding another group of bad guys. Like Viscerafest and ULTRAKILL, Wrath also adds a dash attack. This function is quite useful navigating some of the vertical sections here as well as allowing you to conserve supplies by stabbing low level enemies instead of shooting them. It’s a pretty feature rich game too with a lot of customization options for all types of PC configurations. However, I have never gotten it to play nice with screen overlays, so I haven’t been able to livestream it myself. Still, it’s another interesting one you may want to look into.

And with that I’m off. I do have another few shooters in my Steam wish list so as I get to them I may do another one of these preview lists. And when some of these are completed I may be doing full reviews of some of them so stay tuned!

Thoughts on the Splatoon 3 trailer

I know I’m really late to the party on this one, at least in article form. By now there are countless others within the gaming community with their own thoughts about what’s going on in the limited footage we were shown. For the five of you who just came out from under a rock, Nintendo recently released their first full-length Direct where they showed off games and products per usual. Every one of these videos always excites some, disinterests others, and for some reason, others get so upset they act completely irrationally about it.

This time out there was some disappointment that there was no mention of how the Metroid Prime 4 restart is going, and not much from lapsed series like F-Zero. And while they didn’t have anything to show on The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild 2, they did let us know there was an HD remaster of Skyward Sword coming, which admittedly looks pretty neato.

They showed a lot of popular games were making their way over to Switch like Fall Guys, Apex Legends, Hades which was kind of neat. A bunch of new RPGs, some Monster Hunter games we knew about were expanded on. Not a bad presentation. While I would have liked some other surprises, there was a lot for every kind of player there. But then at the very end, they said “Oh before we leave there’s one last thing for you to see” and then came a trailer for Splatoon 3.

Now the surprise had been a little bit blown for me as I had to work during the initial broadcast and my coworkers told me they dropped a trailer as their phones buzzed them. Almost immediately after that, my phone was blowing up with social media notifications, texts from people, and on.

So when I got home that night I watched the trailer for myself, and some thoughts have been percolating over the last few days about it, so I’ll go a little bit more in-depth here than I really could on Twitter.

First off, I’m not all that surprised there will be a Splatoon 3. That was pretty much inevitable. Splatoon launched on the Nintendo Wii U in 2015. A console that while really cool, failed to catch on for a whole host of reasons. I won’t go into that well travelled dead horse of a topic, but to suffice it to say it didn’t really sell very well. Splatoon was in many ways the best thing to happen to that console. Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. were two franchises that kept it at retail for awhile. Many bought a Wii U just for those two games. But Splatoon was a NEW I.P. on a failing console that still managed to sell an obscene number of copies. Moreover, it was a fantastic and yes, fresh, take on the team shooter that combined a new, and deep movement system not seen since the era of arena shooters like Unreal Tournament with the team emphasis of games like Battlefield and Team Fortress 2. It didn’t turn the Wii U around, but it did far better than what anyone would have expected.

Splatoon 2 came out two years later in 2017 sold millions upon millions more than the original and is still selling now. The recent announcement has undoubtedly resulted in some rebuys from old players who want to practice up, and new players who want to see what the fuss is about. So with two highly successful games so far, it was only a matter of time before a third one would be made. I wasn’t entirely sure it would have also been on the Switch, usually if it’s not a Mario or Zelda game odds are it will be the only entry on the platform. But on the other hand, Splatoon 2 will have been around for about 5 years which is plenty of time for a new entry to be in the pipeline.

Anyway, the trailer starts us out in a desert where we then see a hooded Inkling. The creator system from Splatoon and Splatoon 2 seems to be here, but greatly expanded as there are a host of hair and leg covering options those games didn’t have. And then we see the Inkling’s pupils being selectable as they raise their eyewear. But interestingly enough there is a Salmonid pet that can also be customized. This is interesting in of itself because in Splatoon 2’s Salmon Run (Horde mode) these were the things trying to kill you.

Beyond that, in Splatoon 2 after you beat the campaign and Callie returns to the hub world to give you game statistics Marie has recorded, there are storyline dialogue bits peppered in. One of which has Marie telling you that the way Grizzco is getting their power eggs is “Pretty sketchy”. So from that we can gather that the mysterious Mr. Grizz may have some major role in the next game’s storyline. He could potentially be the new bad guy holding these creatures against their will and we’re going to have to free them. The Nintendo Twitter message of New Year’s 2020 does spell out S. ave O.ur S. almonids after all.

The desert backgrounds also give off a kind of Mad Max vibe which would also tie in to Splatoon 2’s final canon Splatfest where Team Chaos defeated Team Order. The final canon Splatfest in Splatoon effected the storyline in Splatoon 2’s campaign as when Team Callie lost to Team Marie, Callie went on a sabbatical but then went missing. Nintendo’s own website put up storyboards leading up to the game. Low and behold the end of the campaign sees a brainwashed Callie fighting alongside DJ Octavio.

Further supporting this is that the NOA Twitter has called the new hub we see in the trailer Splatsville and on top of that it’s referred to as the “city of chaos”. So if we know where to look we can get little nuggets of information from this trailer. The hub has far more detail than the ones in previous entries so the little details could be nothing but visual flair, or they could be entirely new gear shops we are not yet privy to. But it’s going to be fun speculating about until the next bit of stuff about the game comes out in official means.

For the quick glimpse of what appears to be Turf War we do get to see some of the weapons appear to have been retooled. But we get a closer look at the bow the inkling carried at the beginning of the trailer. It appears to shoot a spread shot of three ink lines. There’s not a lot of multiplayer here, about 19 seconds if that. But in the chaos we can see there are two moves that happen. A strange air dodge that kind of resembles M.Bison’s Psycho Crusher from Street Fighter II, and a wall jump that allows for an extra height boost.

When I first saw them I wasn’t really sure what to think. The air dodge looks like it might have some defensive utility. Kind of like how substrafing in the current game makes you harder to hit, and lets you zig-zag out of the way a little bit faster. The thing is the spin drill animation of the trailer makes it look like it won’t be something only the most experimental people will discover or find in a metagame. It looks like something built in, anyone can do. It also makes me wonder if it will have some kind of parry property where maybe you can deflect a hit.

The wall jump seems to show one player getting a double jump off of a wall swim jump then one shot killing an opponent. We don’t know if it will have any major utility other than surprise attacks yet, but I immediately thought back to my Unreal Tournament 2004 days where double-jumping, dodge jumping, and wall dodging not only helped you avoid projectiles, but also helped you navigate the map faster with alternative routes. Maybe this swim jump boost will let you get to even higher ledges it would take many more seconds to reach through other means. If this is true, this opens up the game A TON. These moves have official names thanks to the NOA Twitter. They refer to the first move as a “Squid Roll” and the jump as a “Squid Surge”.

So I really want to see them elaborate on both of these. They also have a brief glimpse of a few specials. One of which looks like a combination of the Sting Ray and Tenta Missiles from Splatoon 2, which I’m not sure how I feel about. The Sting Ray is already pretty beastly even if it is a little slow. The Tenta Missiles aren’t so much beefy. But they can be annoying, and it can be a great spotting tool as they bottle rockets all home in on you. Having both of these at the same time, if that is indeed the case could be overkill. So balance is going to be a concern. The other two specials they showed off were a new robot crab, and the Inkzooka from the original Wii U game.

The crab is definitely interesting. How will it work? Will it be a turret I can place on or near the objective? That would be something terrific for defense. Will it be more of a satellite that follows us around and protects us? Will it be something we can use to target a specific enemy as they try to capture an objective? All of these could be pretty good uses. The Inkzooka seems like they’re no longer having it fire tornadoes of ink, and instead it’s firing off up to three mortars of ink. Sort of like a bonus three shot Explosher you get to break out .

Overall, a lot of stuff packed into a few seconds. It reminded me a bit of the character trailers for fighting games where you have to look at everything frame by frame to gleam something from it. So we know we’re getting two new moves that are going to enhance combat and potentially navigation. That’s exciting. The new bow looks interesting. I wonder if it will be another charger type weapon or if it will be more like the bows in Chivalry or Mordhau. And if it will be like the latter I think that will be fantastic because in those Medieval games, bows cannot be held forever. After so many seconds you have to cancel your draw, and redraw. Otherwise you will lose all accuracy and hit nothing. You also have to account for leading targets and projectile drop. So hopefully it will be similar here.

I also like the idea of the pet salmonid for the story mode. I can’t help but wonder if they will be utilized in multiplayer somehow. And it’s obvious the death crab special is going to be a highlight or it wouldn’t have gotten that forefront view. In any case, Nintendo answered some fan questions preemptively with their Twitter thread. One other thing is when the characters spawn in on their espresso machines. It looks like we’ll be jumping into the map from above now. This is going to be something I’ll be paying attention to as more info gets told to us. On the plus side, it looks like it should cut down on the odds of a team going in and trying to spawn camp the opponents. But on the negative side, does this mean you can spawn pretty much anywhere in the map? Or do you have to be within a certain vicinity of the end of the map? If it’s the former, well that could be nice as you could try to find a spot where it’s safe. But if it’s the latter, once everyone figures out what that limit is, spawn camping teams will just go there instead. So again, this is information I’ll be paying attention to. It’s interesting the old clam bake point in the trailer has tarps all over it.

In any event I am very excited to see how this one turns out next year. I presently have over 1,200 hours in Splatoon 2, and continue to enjoy the game. My hopes for the game are bigger maps, an improved individual Rank system that would factor in more than whether or not you and those you were paired with win or lose. Things like who is holding an objective, saving teammates, getting turf covered and more should be a factor in my humble opinion.

I’m also interested to see what capacity Salmon Run shows up in if it returns considering the fact that we have a pet salmonid now, and the implications it places on Mr. Grizz. Will he be the bad guy? Will he just be a patsy for DJ Octavio? Will DJ Octavio reference Vince McMahon? There are a lot of questions that open up from such a small amount of footage. I’m definitely keeping an eye on the future videos Nintendo puts out on this one.

I’ll be a (friendly) competitor!

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Splatoon. While I play a variety of games, it’s one of my most visited series on my Twitch channel. And while I am not at the same level in Nintendo’s team shooters as I was 14 to 20 years ago in Epic’s Unreal Tournament series, it is a game I’ve tried to master as much as I can.

This has culminated in me being part of an upcoming tournament hosted by Retro Game Brews. For those who don’t know, they do an entertaining podcast, but frequently host tournaments, and races on their own Twitch channel. Often times they’ve spotlighted retro games, and speed run contests. But this time they’re doing Splatoon 2.

So I’m being set up with three other players on 10/30 over on Retro Game Brews channel and hopefully we’ll win. But even if we don’t it should make for a good experience. I haven’t been in a situation like this in years when I would be involved in Sunday night scrims in Unreal Tournament 2004. If any of my old UT teammates stumble upon this, hopefully I’ll see you there.

So I’ve been playing a lot more Splatoon 2 on the channel as I’ve been practicing up some weapons I normally don’t. Believe it or not, Splatoon 2 and it’s predecessor both have three positioning roles, and each of the game’s weapons fall into one of them. So I got to a point where I felt satisfactory with the Kensa Splatterscope, pretty good with the .96 Gal Deco, and surprisingly decent with the Kensa Splattershot Jr. Normally, I roll with the buckets in the game. But if I’m placed into a support or backline roll I would like to at least do competently.

Anyway, I won’t be the only one involved in this tournament. 1UpJohn will be there, as will MegaRetroMan. Neither of whom will be on my team, but neither of whom will be taken lightly. Leading up to the tournament again, I’ll be playing a lot of practice so you might just catch me online. When the time comes it will be up to myself, Kleyman, Baggins, and Princess Kitty Mew Mew when the time comes.

And while this tournament will largely be low key, and none of us are going to be what you might think of as an e-sports level, for anybody looking to improve at the game I highly recommend a few people. Wadsm is one of the best players out of Germany and has a fantastic video on Gear here

ThatSrb2Dude hails from the UK, and is one of the best players in the entire competitive Splatoon scene. Here he goes over an optimal setup for proper motion controls but do keep an eye on all of his material as it can be very beneficial to new and old players alike.

Latias is a phenom with chargers, the game’s Sniper class of weapons. Watching some of their material here is not only going to shock you with how good they are, but you may pick up some basic strategies on how to be a better support or backline player.

And while they’re sporadic with their video releases you can’t go wrong with watching FTWin playing through the North American Nintendo tournaments.

Why do I mention these people? Well one of the best ways to improve at anything is to analyze what some of the best people at a game are doing in the game, and seeing if you can’t adapt some of it to your own unique play style. It doesn’t mean you’ll be a pro overnight, but you may see some improvement. And in any game, hobby, or in life in general, seeing improvement can be as big a motivator as a big win can be. Best of luck to all in the tournament who might see this, and to everyone out there in your own quests to grab the proverbial brass ring! Hopefully this tournament will get a few more folks to check out Splatoon 2 if they haven’t already.

And if you’re interested in other tournaments, races, or other competitive old-school events, be sure to follow Retro Game Brews. A massive thanks for the opportunity to take part in this.

Blogger Recognition Award

I unexpectedly found myself mentioned over the weekend by the great MoeGamer Pete Davison. I really do mean unexpected. For those who stumble upon this and may not know, Pete has a long history writing for gaming mags; often reviewing the esoteric games many people wouldn’t want to write about. Particularly, the stuff that might have a lot of over-the-top fan service, or even an eroge (erotic) themed game. Before internet websites posted long-form content, and independent enthusiasts made YouTube channels, you often thumbed through magazines to get your game information. So to be recognized by any veteran is humbling. It must be kind of like the songwriter of a fledgling rock band putting out a song, not thinking it will get far beyond the cult status and then surprisingly it turns out James Hetfield, or Billie Joe Armstrong or Robin Wilson heard it and adored it. Sure, it may not lead to becoming the next big name, but it’s cool someone with far more star power enjoyed their visit to your tiny corner of the universe.

So anyway, there are a few things you’re supposed to do when a fellow blogger gives you the rub (as they say in pro wrestling circles) and so I’ll have to do those here:

The first step is to thank the blogger who nominated you, which I really do thank MoeGamer. They do some terrific stuff on their own site, and there is a lot to binge on. So do head over there and have a look. Chances are, you’ll learn something new, agree with or disagree with an opinion, and perhaps it will lead to a friendly debate or discussion.

You’re supposed to give a summary about how the blog came to be. I kind of do that in a super bite-sized capsule form in the “About” here, but I’ll unpack it partially here I suppose.

I’ve been blogging for a very, very long time in one form or another. I started out actually in a small patchwork of would-be poets in a now long defunct group called A Window On My Mind. Which is where I made a few friends and it was mainly therapeutic for us. When that went away though I had moved around to a few different places. I probably did the best with my Vox page, but when that service went belly up it took a ton of stuff with it. And it was around this time I was also dabbling in talking about my other big passion; gaming. I never fostered a huge following, I haven’t here either but that was never the point. But I did take a crack at a few user sections of other bigger places before those went defunct as well.

Things on my poetry end went right off a cliff in 2012 though. I had of course written in a local, offline group from around 2004 to around 2010 until the person running it came grievously ill and had to disband it. But what really put a stake in that heart (and proverbially mine as well) was when a long time friend of 15 years unexpectedly cut me out of their lives completely. It was someone I felt very close to. And at the time about the only person I could really feel unjudged confiding in. We’d become friends over writing, reading, and critiquing each other’s work. We’d gotten each other through ups and downs with emotional support. To this day if I try to write poetry it’s like picking at that scab. The hurt just bleeds out and I can’t do it. I don’t begrudge the person. I only wish the best for them. I have no idea where they are or how they’re doing, and I don’t care to find out. I just hope and pray it’s well. I have no animosity. But I don’t desire to go through the five stages of grief over and over again though. Once is enough. And so if the urge to write poetry again comes back peaceably without reminding me of that ordeal at every attempt to put pen to paper, I may do that privately or on a separate blog altogether. Time heals all wounds as they say, so perhaps someday there will be an interest in trying again.

But I did still have my love of video games. I still had the ability to write other things, and so I decided to continue to write about video games. A local friend at the time started a small game blog called Retro Retreat, and I contributed a couple of articles here and there to the page before life got in everyone’s way, and that folded. But that was a great outlet in its short time. Eventually, I just decided I still wanted to write even if I was the only one doing it and so here we are. I still think there’s a place for long form written reviews. As much as I like a lot of the people doing YouTube videos there are situations where just reading something feels better. Hopefully people feel the same way and like what they see here.

From here, I’m supposed to give two pieces of advice to anyone who wants to start a blog. So these are two things I’ve learned over the years.

First: Write about whatever you want. Really. Write about whatever it is you want. If you’re passionate about something let the world know. After you’ve been doing it awhile you might find the topic or the angle you want to focus on, which is good for retention. You may build an audience who shares your love of say, spaghetti. But if you need to take a break from spaghetti to talk about lasagna instead, there’s nothing wrong with that. Sure some of the spaghetti fans might be disappointed, but you also don’t want to burn yourself out either. You can branch out once in a while.

Second: No matter what you decide to write about though, be sure to proofread. You may want to download something like Grammarly to help with that task. But even a good utility isn’t perfect. And you’ll want to be sure you’ve gotten the spelling, punctuation and everything else the best you possibly can. Why? Well for one, it looks more professional. Whether you’re writing for a hobby or writing to get a check, that professional look is key. A well written and well edited article will usually garner more attention than the 600 word cluster filled with spelling errors and bad spacing. You can have a mediocre writer and a fantastic writer write about the same thing using 2,000 words. If the mediocre writer does a great job with periods and commas while the fantastic writer only focuses on content, chances are the mediocre writer will still get a better reception. I am not a professional paid writer. But I want to make sure that when I do put something out there, it can hang with with the work of the pros. Or at least get as close as possible. I may be writing for my own love of doing so, but I’d like someone else to at least want to attempt to read the ramblings of this madman. And they won’t want to even try if it appears that I didn’t care to try. So proofread!

Finally, I’m supposed to choose 15 articles for those who see this to go check out. Clearly I need to sub to more because I don’t think I’ll hit all 15, so some will be videos. But still, I hope you’ll check them out anyhow.

Neese005 takes a look at Valorant

Benez256 waxes nostalgic about some of their favorites

The Shameful Narcissist updates us with their progress

Hungrygoriya found some great acquisitions this past August

The Well Red Mage reaffirms their mission statement

Extra Life takes a deep analytical look at The Last Of Us 2

Qudduws Campbell reviews Dead By Daylight

Yheela muses about the little things

VidChord reviews Escape From Tethys

NekoJonez talks about video game OSTs

Arthur has a fresh eyed look at Final Fantasy VII

ABXY Mage reviews Black Forest Games’ remake of Destroy All Humans

My pal Peter Skerritt unseals his final game before he’s done moving.

The ReNESance paints a beautiful Breath Of The Wild landscape.

The Best Spuds continue their Rogue Legacy run

Bosses and the RAAAAAAAGE they sometimes instill.

BossesTitle

I recently went back and replayed the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion. I had beaten the story mode when it came out. But I had also skipped a few stages and so I had decided to go back and 100% the game. With the upcoming Splatfest, I figured now would be as good a time as any to finish up the 10 or so stages I didn’t do, and replay the handful I glossed over near the end. I had also heard tales of just how difficult the super-secret boss encounter in the game is. To experience that you need to clear every one of the 80 stages, and pay Pearl any of the money you may have borrowed from her to enter stages if you had run out of it trying to clear stages. So over two nights, that’s what I did. Sunday night I cleared all but about three remaining stages. Then Monday night after a grueling workday I finished those up. As I unlocked the super-secret boss encounter I was reminded of many of the toughest fights I played through over my lifetime. This by no means a list of the absolutely most difficult. But a number of the ones that immediately came to mind. Also yes, I will talk about the one I defeated last Monday night.

Also, I know many of you may not have played some of these games and worry about spoilers. So you may want to skip over some of these with your hyper scroll wheel or you may want to click the back button. On the other hand, I don’t think any of these are from games that came out this year thus far. So I think enough time has passed for most of these.

Why do these encounters stick out in our minds?  I think there are multiple reasons. Some of them are as simple as “This character is a cheap bastard, and I’m glad I never have to do it again.” Others might be cheap bastards too. But they have a cool design, awesome backstory, or something else that goes along with that well. You expect Dr. Wily to be a cheap bastard. He’s cowardly, crosses his fingers. But sometimes still shocks you with the lows he will sink to. Other villains exude confidence and a demeanor that put you into a false sense of security. You’ll think to yourself “This bad guy doesn’t need to be cheap. They’re just going to be a fair challenge that I’ll just have to practice a lot.” And then the game goes “To Hell with that.”. There are other bosses that are sometimes far more brutal than the final bosses they answer to.

Anyway, these fictional entities often get our blood boiling. They bruise our egos. They often don’t play by the very rules they set, and they constantly cheat. But why would we expect anything different? These are villains after all. Some of them are defeated by our pure skill. Others are defeated by completely cheesing them. But we love and hate all of these antagonists for being the world’s biggest stinkers. So here are some of the ones I’ll certainly never forget. And again, these are by no means the most definitively toughest encounters, just ten of the ones that stuck out in a sea of thousands.

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10. Dr. Wily Machine #10 (Mega Man 10)

I’ll be you were probably thinking I would mention the Dinosaur vehicle bot with two forms and subsequent saucer fight from the previous game. Or perhaps the 11th Wily Machine in the following game. A lot of you were probably thinking the Wily Castle 2 Dragon, or Wily Machine #2. But Mega Man 10’s next to the last encounter is somehow at least to me, a little more salt inducing. For the first form, things aren’t too bad. He does the “Shoot missiles that can be used as platforms” thing previous Mega Man bosses have. But then after you blow up the Pirate ship skull faceplate, Dr. Wily gets stupid cheap. He fires an orb that keeps you from moving so that he can get you caught in not one, but two clouds to ground lightning bolts. And while all of this can be avoided once you know what to do, you’re going to die like a hundred times figuring it out. Plus you have to do the required robot master gauntlet when you run out of lives again before fighting him. I’m told playing on the lower setting makes him a tad slower. But it’s still some cheap stuff. Definitely one of the Dr. Wily encounters you will probably lose your cool on.

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09. Dark Fact (Ys 1.)

Dark Fact is an asshole in every version of Ys. In some versions, he might be slightly slower. But he’s still one of the biggest jerks in boss encounters. He flies around the room doing a figure 8 pattern and you have to run up and stab him. Sounds simple enough right? Well, then he summons fireballs. Of the bullet-hell shoot ’em up variety. So you’ve got to try to avoid taking too many third-degree burns while trying to stab him. And with all of that going on, he also randomly destroys part of the floor so you either: A.) Get stuck in one part of the room eating fireballs until you die. Or B) Manage to somehow not burn to death while getting enough stab wounds in that he finally bleeds out. Suffice it to say many of you will be flipping tables when you get to him. This boss took me many, many attempts to defeat, and what a sigh of relief it was when I finally put him down.

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08. Bowser (Super Mario Odyssey) 

Yeah, Bowser would have to get on here somewhere. By no means the most difficult of the examples listed here, he gets a very memorable appearance that will stick with you. At first, it doesn’t seem like much of a fight. It repeats an earlier encounter. He throws his hat at you, and you need to take control of it to knock him out of the arena. But this is easier said than done because he sends a ton of crap at you to keep you from getting to him. He jumps onto the ground sending out rings of fire. He shields himself with flames while breathing out the longest flamethrower breath possible. And each time you do get to him he throws more decoy hats as well as increases the number of flame rings and flamethrowers and tail swings at you. But unlike other Mario games, you don’t really beat him when you beat him. Because the game goes all Metroid and throws a self-destruct sequence into high gear. So you have to take control of the King of the Koopas in order to escape in an honestly quite challenging platforming section. You’ve only got so much time and for all the power Bowser has, he’s slow. So good luck with that one. Still, it’s one of the coolest Mario moments ever. And if that’s not enough for you there’s even a harder third version of the fight hidden in the metagame.

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07. Demogorgon (Forbidden Forest)

This one gets on here because he requires two major metrics in order to be defeated. You have to hit a pixel-perfect spot to pierce his heart and you have to do it in only 60 seconds. Succeed and the game will loop allowing you to go on. Fail, and it’s Game Over. His pixelated visage will come down from the heavens oh so menacingly. Even if you have extra lives in reserve. It matters not.  On top of this, The Demogorgon is only visible when lightning strikes. The only help you’re given is sometimes seeing the background distort if he happens to be there. Sometimes, but not always. You’re likely going to hear that shrieking ear-piercing BEEP BEEEEEEEP BEEP BEEEEEEEP BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP in your dreams.

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06. Evil Otto (Berzerk) 

Evil Otto is invincible. He was also inspired by the game’s creator’s boss as he reportedly smiled when he yelled at people. Evil Otto will relentlessly hunt you down and hump your corpse. Forget your childish opponents in your favorite shooter. The smiley face of doom did it first. You can’t shoot him. You can’t hope one of his subservient robots turns on him. All you can do is run. The rare exception is the children’s mode in the Atari 2600 port where he can be killed. But even going into baby mode won’t help you. Because Evil Otto will still respawn. Good luck sleeping tonight.

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05. Jasper Batt Jr. (No More Heroes 2)

This guy is an annoying pain in the ass. He drives a hovercar around his office so you can’t hit him with your swords. He also has a slew of death lasers that generate throughout the office, and can even summon a giant death beam. After you manage to weaken him through some well-timed strikes that lead to QTEs when he tries to run you down, the cheapness goes up to eleven. After you blow up his car he becomes a supervillain. And as a supervillain, he either shoots around 50 bats at you, teleports the second you go to hit him or manages to land one of his Incredible Hulk punches on you. When you really start to put the hurt on him he gets even cheaper.  Warping around like a Dragonball Z character, throwing tornadoes at you while giving you more suplexes and piledrivers than Mike Haggar. If you somehow survive all of that he becomes a Godzilla you have to cut up from a rooftop while avoiding death beams he spits out. If you manage to pull it off, you’ve defeated one of the toughest bosses out there.

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04. God Rugal (Capcom Vs. SNK 2)

This guy is SNK Boss Syndrome to the nth degree. First of all, the guy will take off nearly a quarter or more of your life bar with any given move. He will also repeat specials at an impossible speed and land combos that no human player could reasonably pull off. Your only hope is to block like crazy and find the one move the computer didn’t account for and spam it until you maybe win. That is if he doesn’t clown you before you can figure it out. Which he will. SNK was always a genius with its evil boss plan. An idea Capcom implemented here, and something even Midway rode within Mortal Kombat games. Make the bracket pretty doable, and then suck out hundreds of tokens from people who made 98% of the journey and really want to see that final 2%. In this case, though reaching him or the other secret Akuma variant also requires you to keep up your performance score. That means winning with Supers and Perfects on the way. If you pull that off, the ending of the tournament is interrupted and you’ll face one of the two ultimate boss variations. And if you get God Rugal there will likely be a broken controller in your future.

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03. Grim Matchstick (Cuphead)

A lot of Cuphead is difficult since being Nintendo hard is kind of the point of the game besides honoring 1930’s era animation. But Grim Matchstick is the one boss that really stands out from the crowd of bosses for me. He’s clearly inspired by the Dr. Wily Mecha Dragon boss in Wily Castle 2 (Mega Man 2) but other than jumping on clouds like blocks, the fight is a completely original experience. He starts out the way you might expect. Spitting projectiles you need to avoid while shooting him. But before you know it he has boulders flying at you in different combinations of three patterns. While also dodging other projectiles. If you last long enough, he ends up behind you where he spits out a marching band of flames. And you still need to avoid other things at the same time. Make it past all of that and he becomes a Hydra. With practice he is beatable. He’s still very much a pattern memorization exercise. But that doesn’t make him any less tough.

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02. Gurglewocky (Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams)

Gurglewocky is easily one of the toughest bosses you’ll face in a game. He’s a three form affair that requires a lot of memorization and dexterity. When you first reach him they take a page from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, where he chases you down Bowser style. Fitting as the original Commodore 64 game borrowed Super Mario elements. But from that quick moment, things kick into overdrive. He becomes a background boss where he uses a variety of attacks. He’ll swing his tail at you. He’ll spit a fireball into the air and cause it to rain fireballs. He’ll also fill the floor below you with lava leaving you with only some moving platforms and temporary blocks to stand on. When this happens, if he does the fire rain I mentioned earlier, the fireballs shoot back up out of the lava while the other fireballs are still raining down. Not enough for you? Sometimes he’ll shoot larger fireballs that you can avoid a little bit easier. But if they land in the lava, it causes fire columns to go from lava coated floor to ceiling.

After around three of these attacks, he’ll spit a flaming rock out that follows you around as you avoid more of these attacks. He usually does another one after this, and then shoots a line of fire out that goes either clockwise or counterclockwise. Depending on which world you’re in at the time (Dream or Nightmare) You’ll have to shift it to the opposite color of the flame on the boulder that’s been chasing you. The fire breath will then clear the fire off of the rock so you can knock it back at him. Do this three times and you can move onto the next phase. But before you can, he’ll likely flood the entire room with lava except for the very top line. You’re going to die a ton of times on this form. If you can manage to get past this and hit him three times you can escape. But he appears again! After you almost get crushed by boulders you have to dash attack his mouth at just the right time. Pull it off and you can say you’ve saved Maria! Even though that means you’re just going to be moving onto the Expansion pack content.

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01. Inner Agent #3 (Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion)

And this leads me to the battle I had with the super-secret boss in Nintendo’s 80 stage DLC for Splatoon 2. Inner Agent #3 can only be faced if you’ve beaten every stage and owe Pearl no money. (Stages cost money to enter and if you lose the level you pay to continue or reenter it later. If you run out of money Pearl will give you more. You can repay it to her when you earn money back for beating stages.) And the stages have to be beaten. You can’t use the game’s level skip mechanic. So you’ll have to go to any stage you used the mechanic on, and replay it. Once you have all of that done you can face the boss by going to a previously closed locker. This initiates a flashback where our expansion pack protagonist Agent #8 faces the protagonist from the original Splatoon (Wii U).

I had heard from a lot of players in the Splatoon 2 community that this was one of the hardest fights in videogames. But I went in with just a dash of skepticism. Surely some of this was just hyperbole. Nintendo game bosses are usually a nice balance of tough and fair. This is not one of those bosses. The match starts out with Agent #3 turning at you slowly before divebombing into the arena as the Squid Sisters’ Calamari Inkantation comes on. They start with an immediate Splashdown special and proceed to throw auto bombs while shooting at you. Shortly after this, they start initiating Inkjet specials (Two different specials so far when they should only be able to use one.). If you can manage to injure them enough to break a temporary shield they then go back to a Splashdown special and then the Bubble Blower special. This creates giant Bubbles they can explode for massive damage and kill potential. All while still throwing auto bombs that are basically homing bombs. Survive this, and they begin throwing a massive slew of auto bombs while also shooting you. Get past this, break their shield again and they’ll begin to ride a UFO while they shoot continual Tenta Missiles at you while throwing auto bombs and shooting at you. So now you have homing explosives of two varieties coming at you.

You have to throw Splat Bombs (Grenades) at them until their shield breaks again. This is where the unfair cheapness really kicks in. They do three Splashdown specials in a row while throwing more auto bombs at you. This becomes a war of attrition trying to get in a few hits while avoiding massive assaults. Keep in mind you also need to have the floor covered in your ink to be able to escape these attacks, and each attack only makes the floor more and more their color. Also when you shoot at them they will start dodge rolling out of the way despite the fact they aren’t using dualies (the only weapon class that allows one to use this move.) If you can somehow break their shield in between avoiding all of that. Then, you’ll knock them out and get the win. Winning gets you a cosmetic item for multiplayer. It’s not much, but as it is the only way to get it, at least other players will know you went through a proverbial war. By some miracle, I did it on my eighth attempt or so. But I can see why many put this high on their lists of tough bosses. All of that said, when you understand the patterns well enough you can defeat them. But even with that understanding, it isn’t an easy fight. People may mock me for comparing Inner Agent #3 to an SNK boss, but until you’ve gotten there yourself you’ll never know just how apropos that it really is.

But as I said earlier, this is by no means a “Top hardest” list by any means. Just some of the ones that came to mind as I was entering the fight with Inner Agent #3. There is a slew of challenging bosses out there. I can already hear fans of Ninja Gaiden, Dark Souls, Guilty Gear, Castlevania, Final Fight, and Streets Of Rage getting ready to beat me to death with their keyboards. So what say you? What are some of your toughest boss encounters? Which ones made you lose your composure, break your controller, or simply say “Fiddle DeeDee”? Tell your stories in the comments below.

 

Overtime, musings, and dormant styles.

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With everyone going into panic mode around here with the virus scare I’ve been working most of the time. It’s essential to retail and we’ve been short-staffed so I’ve had a couple of weeks with overtime. I’ve managed to get in a stream in or two but not a lot of time to write. Last weekend though I somehow managed to get the weekend free so I decided to stream one of my favorite series: Unreal Tournament.

I wrote a lengthy retrospective a few years ago so I won’t be going deep into the games themselves here. Rather I’ll talk a bit about the things going on in my life at the time these came out and what they really meant to me. Also replaying these games this weekend brought up a bigger question that I’ll get to a little bit later.

The original Unreal Tournament came out in November of 1999. It’s hard to believe but the series is going to be 21 years old this November. By October of 2000, the Game Of The Year Edition was released which had the extra content that had been added later included. Around this time I had left a now-defunct footwear retailer to work at a now-defunct OEM. I needed that change. I was taken advantage of by the new boss I had at the time. Was constantly called in anytime anyone else called out. I was cursed by my own work ethic. And yet I knew if I had called out or slacked the way some of my coworkers had, I’d have been dropped like a bad habit. And working with and selling computers was far more interesting to me than a self-serve shoe store. And of course, at the OEM we often had demos of games.  It was the second of two games I bought where I knew I was going to have to replace my computer at the time. (The first game was SiN.) My CD ROM drive was too slow to load the audio during SiN, and my Pentium 200 was barely handling it. Plus my Packard Bell had integrated video and no expansion slot for a graphics card. I had played UT in software mode on it, and it did run. But the grainy Game Boy Advance level visuals made seeing people with shock rifles in the distance impossible. When my brother and I played the game over a crossover cable, I had zero chance against his new 900mhz Athlon and TNT 2 combination.

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Fast forward and I had gotten a deal through work. My 1.2Ghz Athlon with 256MB RAM and a GeForce 2 were prepped to play it. That game consumed us after work. Sometimes we would stay after closing the showroom and repair center to play that on LAN through the server we had. I’ll never forget the one night a coworker got up from his station to look at my monitor to tell everyone where I was sniping them from. I had been on a sizeable killing spree as I picked them off. “Double Kill!” “Triple Kill!” “Mega Kill!” “M-M-M-MONSTER KILL!”. That came to a quick end when the staff collectively jumped me with miniguns, rippers, and rockets.

It (along with  Quake III Arena) was great because it took the secondary mode we’d played in DOOM over the modem, and made it into its own game. It also went in a different direction than Quake III Arena. It implemented a dodge system and a feigning death feature. Whereas Quake focused on speeding up momentum with advanced strategies like strafe jumping and rocket jumping. Both were excellent. Taking the same basic concepts and doing entirely different executions on them. Thus the Arena shooter was cemented as a subgenre.

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A few years later Epic would partner with Infogrames (Who had just bought Atari and rebranded itself as such) as a publisher and announce UT would be a yearly release. This was because they looked at the game’s story of futuristic blood sport and figured it could mirror what Sports games had done as a genre. So when UT2003 came out it started with an almost pro wrestling level introduction. It had its share of bugs and balancing issues. Plus not everyone was sold on the higher system requirements. Still, I remember the game demo being useful as it was on three of our stations at the time and I could show people that the cheap system wouldn’t run it (Or other games) well, due to the cost-cutting measures. (Low-end processor. integrated video. No card slot expansion due to the use of a flex case) but the midrange and high end would run it rather fantastically. Plus I enjoyed the demo so much when we got it available I picked it up. As I’ve said elsewhere before, it was here that I started to get into the higher-level stuff. I had decided I wanted to “Git Gud” as the kids say these days and that meant playing and researching a lot. And I still went back to the older game too as coworkers played it a lot, and even my friends and relatives enjoyed it.

I started out (and maybe this will help some of you out in a more modern game you enjoy) small. First, I decided that I would get 5 frags per round. I knew I had no hope of coming out on top consistently. There were just too many great players out there. But I was going to get that five kills. Middle. Bottom. I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I would get five kills. It was a small, achievable, reasonable goal. It took a good couple of weeks of playing to do that consistently. But once I got there, I moved the goal post. TEN frags per round.

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The other thing I noticed early on even in the first game was that people often ignored the Bio Rifle unless it was the only gun other than the starting weapon they had any ammo for. (In the first game you started with a pistol. In 2003 they started you off with an assault rifle.)  Much like in the Fighting game community, competitive shooters often have tier lists. (Now Maximillian Dood did a wonderful rant about how they’re often misused in fighters today.) But the same logic can apply to shooters. And while they’re not taken as gospel the way they can be in a fighting game community, they do sometimes have people treating some of the less popular weapons as ignorable and the more popular ones as coveted. Like the Energy sword in the original Halo for example. I remember people being called cheap for using it because people on the receiving end often couldn’t find a counter. In Unreal Tournament people often said that about the Flak Cannon and the Shock Rifle. Namely, because the Flak Cannon’s primary shot could ricochet shrapnel around corners and the Shock Rifle could shoot its secondary ammo with its primary shot after the secondary ammo had been fired. Causing a massive blast that could often kill more than 3 people at once if they were in close proximity.

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By contrast, nobody wanted to touch the Bio Rifle. So I decided since I wasn’t very good anyway, why not use the weapon nobody liked? So over time, I learned that the secondary fire could be held to charge up the slime almost like a spring on a pinball cabinet. And that a full charge would often one-shot someone unless they had full armor, and extra health. Even if they survived, they would be a mere two bullets or a laser or an explosion away from death. So I began practicing that weapon a lot.

Unreal Tournament 2003 also had a couple of extra game types the first one didn’t have which made the game stand out even more. The big one was Bombing Run which was like Football crossed with Team Deathmatch. It wasn’t my favorite mode, but it was interesting nevertheless. UT2k3 was also a crash course in video card upgrades for me along with Serious Sam The Second Encounter. Around this time Nvidia had released their GeForce 4 line of cards, and they didn’t have the most forthcoming naming convention. They had an MX line and a TI (Titanium) line of cards. And unfortunately, they didn’t do the best job of explaining what each was. I bought a GeForce 4400 MX from EB Games when I bought Serious Sam The Second Encounter. Only to find that it wasn’t a big leap in performance over my GeForce 2. It wasn’t until after this I did more research to find out it was basically a GeForce 2 with some more features thrown in. Nice for a buyer moving up from the onboard video. Not so much for someone who already had a card. Fortunately, a coworker needed a card for a slightly older rig so he was willing to buy it from me for a little less than I’d paid. I then ordered a GeForce 4 TI 4600 which was vastly superior. I had also upgraded the RAM to 512MB at one point.

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Still, a year and a half later Unreal Tournament 2004 was to be out. By this time in 2003 things at my job at the OEM weren’t so great. The dot com bust had hurt a bunch of stuff in tech. There was a price war, Things were on the downslope. It was also a time when I was tweaking any possible thing I could to get the best performance in games on my hardware. When I couldn’t crack 60FPS on my computer I had to take drastic action to ensure UT2k3 had as much memory freed up as possible. So I went into Windows ME and turned off all the visual flair making it look like a Windows 98 desktop. Still not content, I turned off animated windows, I tweaked all of the power settings. I even went into the services and disabled so many features I didn’t think I would ever need. Sure things looked pretty plain, but it held me over until I had my next upgrade. I was running the game at 70 FPS on medium to high settings. Pretty cool. Our showroom was scuttled later that year and I ended up taking a transfer to another showroom an hour or so away.  And things were pretty tense. We were given impossible metrics to hit and they eventually expected us to get business in the door by telemarketing out to small businesses in the town. Which obviously failed spectacularly. And our boss at the time just barked at us all the time about all of it even when we had great weeks.

I got along with everyone else though. But UT2003 got me through a number of particularly stressful patches at the time. I could stop worrying about the other shoe potentially falling when I would get home. It wasn’t all bad.  And I would also make a few friends which would eventually lead to me being on an actual team! I also became better friends with a couple of the folks I worked with. One of whom was into a lot of the same bands as I was. So we talked about music and went to some of the same New York and New England shows together. The best being getting to see The Mr. T Experience play The Space in February 2004. Unreal Tournament 2004 would drop in March of 2004. Things were getting really untenable at my job at this point, and many of us were considering walking out. A few weeks later we were told we were all losing our jobs by the end of April anyway. So we grit our teeth and bore it in order to get our severance, which was honestly a very good set of release benefits. I still had a little left by the time I landed another job months later.

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It was around this time I would discover the Super Witch server, where a number of regulars would play. And some of the better players had noticed my proficiency with the Bio Rifle. I was able to hold my own, often getting near the top of the board until tournament level players would pop in and clown me. But before long I was surprised to find a lot of these guys were impressed enough they wanted to help me learn some of the more advanced movement I hadn’t quite pulled off on my own. How to combine wall dodges with double jumps to get to harder to reach areas. Using an elevator jumps more effectively. Better planning map routes to beat people to power-ups. Eventually, I would be invited to join Maximum Carnage. And after a few months of being unemployed, I ended up getting a tech sales job at a big-box retailer. Probably not the one you’re thinking of. But I don’t look to stir the pot so I never mention names. Anyway, by this time I had resolved to build my first homebrew machine. I went with an Athlon 64 3500+ 1GB RAM and a GeForce 6600GT if my memory serves me right. So playing UT2k4 at maximum settings was very impressive at the time. A few years later I went with an X2 4600+ Processor upgrade

My job wasn’t that impressive, but at least on some level, I was still able to do some of what I liked about the previous job. Yes, I dealt with a lot of undue pressure because everything was in sheer panic mode, especially at the end. But getting to talk about tech, tying hardware to someone’s needs, and making people (hopefully) happy with a purchase was something I honestly liked most of the time. I also learned we actually did some repairs in the big box store but the company never advertised this at the time for whatever reason. We had one devoted technician for it, and he would come in a couple of days a week but went to several stores to do this work. I got to speak with him about it from time to time but in the interim, I mostly had the mundane task of sorting deliveries between my department and the others, then putting it all out in between helping people.

The people there at the time weren’t flogging me or anything (yet) but they seemed mostly cold. Nobody was all that personable. You were only spoken to when you needed to be. “Do this task.” “Mention this promo.” “Answer the phone with this call script.” It was a very clinical environment. There was one personable person in another department who ended up being there around as long as I was. So my early days consisted of work, then go home. Sometimes I would go hang out at the nearby record store I frequented regularly after work but more so as we weren’t that far away from it.

I had also joined a local writing group around then, so on nights that I could make the meetups at the local bookstore, I would go share my poetry, and talk about my writing process. It was definitely an older crowd. Not a lot of people my own age were there but I did enjoy that because a lot of what I wrote about was personal. Some of them fictionalized. Some of it was allegorical. But still very much about the inward feelings of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and loneliness I dealt with (and still sometimes deal with though I’m much better today). I also had a very scant few people I felt I could confide in at the time. So this was a creative and therapeutic outlet for me. The other had become my love of Unreal Tournament.

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When the bookstore closed there were a couple of places the writing group would meet up instead, but eventually that folded. In my time there I got the sense that people thought I had a modicum of talent, but probably didn’t like the ratio leaning so much into the dark themes versus the light themes. There were two people there Leon and Josh who I felt did fantastic commentary in their work. I felt happy when Josh actually managed to get something published, and I got to meet a couple of authors in my time there. Lauren Baratz-Logsted was pretty cool. Not exactly game related, but she has a few great novels you ought to look into if you’re looking for something different.

Anyway, I lost touch with everyone there but the Maximum Carnage clan had been a great group of people too. I was mingling with a great group of players, I was getting much better at all of the UT games up to that point, and we were consistently playing in scrims with tournament level clans. Unfortunately, we never got to the tournament level ourselves but we came pretty damn close.  By 2007 though Epic would prepare the third installment in the series which would come out in November.

This is where the series started to peter out, though it wasn’t instantaneous. There were good things and bad things going on. Unreal Tournament III was a great game. Make no mistake. It was a considerable visual upgrade. It retained a fast pace the series had been known for, and it even kept some of the most popular stuff from the previous game. The thing is the underlying gameplay did make some changes. The fanbase liked UT and UT2k4. With 2k4 they basically had fixed the problems 2k3 had while retaining all of the good stuff. Plus it gave everyone the highly acclaimed Onslaught mode. But UT fans also had their preferences. Some in the community preferred the original 1999 game. They liked the heavier gravity and the armor system. The fans who preferred the 2003/2004 model enjoyed some advanced movement techniques like the dodge jump or the double jump wall dodge. The lighter gravity also meant that maps were built around trick jumping. And there was a wide variety of outlandish characters. The 2003/2004 versions also employed an interesting adrenaline mechanic, where rather than picking up power-up icons like in UT99, collecting 100 pills would let you perform a special movement sequence to get the same effect. For instance, strafing left, left, right, right, would initiate the invisibility power-up.

Unreal Tournament III tried to bridge that gap. It went with a similar weight to the original game and used its shield belts, and jump boots too. But it also lets you do the advanced dodges featured in 2003/2004. But the other thing it did that many in the community didn’t like was using the art style of another popular game Epic had made for the Xbox 360; Gears Of War. Gone were the regular but interesting future soldiers of UT99 and the variety of sci-fi horror characters of 2003/2004. Instead, the characters had the big bulky space armor of the Marcus Fenix variety.

One other thing that set the game back a bit was the high (at the time) requirements for the PC version. While Crytek’s Crysis was even higher, both games had scrutinized releases as a result. That said, I had loved the series so much it was one of the few times I’ve actually bought a collector’s edition. Previously, I had even bought a book on creating content with the Unreal 2 Engine and even made a few crude UT2k4 maps in it. My clan took those maps and made them look pretty cool, adding advanced geometry and original textures. We also had the Zounds mutator on the server which had let us type certain words in chat to hear sound bites. Every time one typed in “Goo” into the chat you would hear Will Smith in Independence Day yelling “Oh you did NOT shoot that green shit at me!” 

The UT3 collector’s edition came with some cool stuff. A hardcover art book that you normally would pay a decent amount for if you saw it in a bookstore, as well as a number of videos on the making of the game, and even some interviews with Mark Rein and Mike Capps. It has a similar steelbook to the one Nintendo used for the Metroid Prime Trilogy. Very nice. Despite all of the things going against it, it still did adequately and Epic tried to make up for it with the Titan Black update. While I personally enjoyed UT3 most of the people in Maximum Carnage still played far more UT2k4. Sadly, we disbanded by the middle of 2008 or so. Which wasn’t the best time for me because I had a relationship end. Not a serious one. But it still hurt. Three games got me through it. Unreal Tournament 2004, Unreal Tournament III,  on my computer and the copy of No More Heroes my friend had given to me on the Wii for my birthday around then.

But this was also the time Call Of Duty 4 would be so popular it would almost transplant the Arena FPS as a subgenre. There had been popular military shooters before. The earlier entries of Call Of Duty all did well enough, and Battlefield 1942 surely inspired the Onslaught mode that was in Unreal Tournament 2004. But the grounded realism proved very popular and the Arena FPS would take a backseat.

There were flashes here and there. id Software had some success with Quake Live, which (at the time) was Quake III Arena running in a browser. It was popular enough that it even retained a presence in tournaments for a long time. But on the whole, the publishers shifted gears to military shooters. Call Of Duty, of course, was more focused on individual scoring while Battlefield was a little more team-oriented. But Medal Of Honor, Brothers In Arms, Arma, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, Day Of Defeat were but a handful of the many names that would become quite popular. Even Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six had left a lot of its tactical shooting mechanics in the dust by then giving us stuff like Lockdown, Vegas, and Vegas 2 instead.

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Replaying the Unreal Tournament series not only took me back to those days in my life, but it was also a reminder of what makes the Arena shooter such a great subgenre. Like other multiplayer games, there’s obviously the thrill of competition. But when it comes to the way they play, there is little else like them. First of all, speed. Arena FPS games focus a lot on an arcade experience. So one of the things you need to do is constantly tweak your hand and eye coordination. It isn’t enough to shoot at people. You have to be able to shoot them quickly and efficiently. You also have to make good use of footwork. If you’re a great shot, but horrible at moving, you’re probably getting taken out by different opponent than the one you’re trying to take down. And even if you’re fantastic that might happen anyway.

Arena shooters easy to pick up and play. Anyone can hop in, get a couple of kills and have a good time. But they have a fairly deep meta game in spite of the simplicity. That’s what has made them (along with fighting games) pioneers in the e-sports realm. People like Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel made names for themselves in Quake and Unreal Tournament. They paved the way for the names and genres you see represented today. Even if you don’t have tournaments and endorsements as your video game end goal, learning those advanced techniques can be addicting and very rewarding at the same time. The first time you’re able to find a secret room in a map because you mastered an elevator jump or the first time you survive a shock combo because you timed a dodge jump just right feels very good. When you find you can get around a map with trick jumps faster than you can by walking. These are all examples of the sense of wonder you get when something just clicks.

Of course, since their heyday, we’ve seen Military Shooters, Hero Shooters, and Battle Royale Shooters become the popular FPS multiplayer subgenres. We already talked a bit about the Call Of Duty and Battlefields. But games like Overwatch have proven popular too. Games were rather than grab everything on a map, or begin with a loadout you start with a character. Said character is designed to play a certain role on a team and you try to plan your team composition not only around your own talents but what character is the best at a given task on a certain map.

All of these games take elements from those old school games of course. Military Shooters try to have balanced maps and reward cooperation. Hero Shooters retain some of the fantastical elements. Sometimes in the weapons or utilities of a certain character. Or the otherworldly aesthetic of a certain location. Although it’s a Third-Person Shooter, I find there are many parallels between Nintendo’s Splatoon games and the Unreal Tournament games. Both series, while very different in their goals require a mastery of movement. Where UT has advanced techniques like dodges or wall dodges to quickly cover ground or use them as an unorthodox means of travel, Splatoon requires you to learn how to do swim jumps. Or learn how to swim up walls, or jump between walls to get to a place that was once thought impossible to see. Splatoon’s Bubble Blower Special is eerily close to Unreal Tournament’s Shock Combo.

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These days, the Battle Royale subgenre is all of the rages. Games like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and Apex Legends are always talked about, have huge fanbases and even push their share of collectible merchandise like action figures and resin statues. They’re frequently headlining video game tournaments, and are played by a lot of the world’s top players for thousands of dollars in prize money. And while it would be easy to write them off as a lottery where you run from a dome, that wouldn’t be fair. At their core, they’re the Last Man Standing mode featured in many old school deathmatch games. But expanded to 100 players. Also, like the Arena Shooters of old, you have to go explore to find yourself a weapon of note. And to the subgenre’s credit, the dome mechanic keeps everything from devolving into a snore where every player who finds a long-range sniper rifle will just camp for three hours in the hopes that everyone else will get bored and walk out into the line of fire. It basically forces every player to do so.

Still, I personally wish the Arena FPS subgenre would come back to the forefront of popularity. It’s a fantastic one for the reasons I’ve outlined earlier. Many people agree and likely have similar fond memories of firing up Quake or Unreal, staying up until 4am playing against friends over the internet with a few beers. Or hardcore types going to BYOB LAN parties or local tournaments for the fellowship, community, and competition.

Since then there have been occasional attempts by smaller developers to bring the subgenre back. Nexius was born out of that desire back in 2012 but didn’t get very far out of the gate despite being pretty respectable. Fast forward to 2014 and Reflex Arena hit Steam in an attempt to give people unsatisfied with the lack of a proper Quake entry something to like. To its credit, it did a fantastic job of bringing back the Quake III Arena feel. But it didn’t hold onto a big group of players for very long. The arguably most successful attempt was Toxikk which brought back the Unreal Tournament 2004 gameplay nearly 1:1 on Unreal Engine 3. It came out four years ago now and held a sizable number of players for almost two years. But eventually, it too petered out.

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Epic Games DID have an Unreal Tournament IV in the works. It was going to be a collaborative experiment where they would again align with Digital Extremes, as well as content creators. The original plan was to build the game and ship it for free. Then when the end-users got their hands on the game and tools, they could make their own maps, mods, and total conversions as they had with UT, UT2k3/2k4, and UT3. The difference now being they would sell those on Epic’s digital store and take a cut to cover the cost of production. As well as a profit I’m sure. It actually got pretty far along and you can still download it from their store. The thing is it was canceled when Epic Games realized just how much oil they had struck with Fortnite. The people they had working on Unreal Tournament were moved to Fortnite and the game was put on indefinite hiatus. It’s highly unlikely it will ever see completion at this point.

The other thing, of course, is that games of this ilk can cost millions of dollars to make. Especially if it’s going to have the bleeding edge Hollywood visuals and sound of a AAA blockbuster release. Sadly, that means the Epic Games’, Bethesda’s, EA’s, Activision’s, Ubisoft’s, or Warners of the world probably aren’t going to put the money up to make a go of it. If only the old-timers like me buy it, that probably isn’t enough of a profit to impress their shareholders.

It isn’t only Arena Shooters in this boat mind you. There are other video game genres and subgenres that lie dormant today. Most esoteric these days are probably hex-based strategy games and text adventures. Which still exist and have their rabid fanbases. But they’re not exactly games you’re going to hear about around the watercooler. Be that as it may, it isn’t entirely hopeless either. Things come and go in popularity sometimes. And in the world of gaming, this has happened many times. Back in the age of the Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, and Sony PlayStation, there were many who thought the 2D platformer would forever have a fork in its back. Super Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, were all games that people were about at the time. Nearly everyone was trying to make games where the mascot was made of polygons rather than sprites.

But 2D platformers would eventually come back into vogue and they sit alongside the 2.5D, and 3D platformers today as if nothing had ever happened to them. There was also a time when Square Enix thought their old school JRPGs were done. But just a few years ago Octopath Traveler’s success showed Square Enix that there is still plenty of gas in the tank. It did so well on the Switch that last year they ported the game to PC. Before the release of Street Fighter IV, it was widely thought Capcom may never make another one. The people behind it had to plead their case multiple times before the company would let them make it. Thankfully, they were able to. Not only did it lead the way for other Capcom fighting games, but other companies also brought back their fighting games as well. There was a reemergence of the genre as a whole.

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So there’s always the chance a newcomer will make the Arena Shooter that clicks again, or there’s evidence that enough people do want a proper Unreal Tournament or Quake that Epic Games or Bethesda bring one to market again. The good news is that the old UT and Quake games are still around. The indie releases of recent years are still around. All of which support LAN play. So if nothing else, if you can get a few friends to pick up one of them you can still enjoy them. Maybe you won’t see the same level of competition you would have seen 21 years ago. But they don’t have to die with the generation of people who played them in their prime. I hope some of you will be willing to check the genre out. And some of them like Quake Champions and Toxikk can be played for nothing.

Arena Shooters and Unreal Tournament, in particular, helped me cope, helped me connect with people, made me a better player and even gave me the drive to learn something new. I may not have become a professional player. I may not have gotten a better job or fame or fortune. But I did see some positive things come from what was otherwise a silly game meant for fun. So I’ll always fondly remember them, and I’ll likely keep an eye out for the next attempt at spotlighting the subgenre.

Super Mario Multiverse: Mario Bros.

 

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Well, the stars have aligned, the time has flown and here we are. The Well-Red Mage invited I as well as a slew of others to take part in the Super Mario Multiverse special crossover event. In it, you’ll see some words about the many, many, MANY games featuring Nintendo’s mustached mascot. Everyone remembers Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and Super Mario 64. But not a lot of people comparably talk about the first major game where his name was in the title.

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Mario Bros. came at a weird time for many of us. It bridged the gap between Mario’s adventures as a construction worker trying to save his girlfriend from a crazed ape and his time as a plumber trying to save royalty from a dragon turtle. And while a lot of people knew about it well in advance of Super Mario Bros. Some people didn’t. In fact, some people still don’t know it’s a thing. Imagine my surprise for instance, when a former coworker tried playing it on the Famiclone handheld I’d brought in for my lunch break one day. He kept trying to jump on the shell creepers and flies to no avail.

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Travel back to 1983 however, and you’ll find there were a few home versions released across several platforms. In Japan, the Famicom obviously got a version. But Hudson Soft also ported the game to the PC-88 computer. Ocean Software would port the game to a slew of computers in the European market including the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. Here in the United States Atari would get the publishing rights and proceeded to release the game for the Atari 2600 and Atari 5200.  The 5200 version is interesting because the console largely used the same components as Atari’s 8-bit computer line, the 400/800, XL (and later under Tramiel) XE. Despite this fact, the 5200, and 400/800 versions were different games. When the XE came out years later, a vastly superior version came out from Atari Corp. which was backward compatible with the 400/800 and XL lines. It makes one wonder why this couldn’t have simply been on the 5200 years earlier.

Atari also published North American computer versions on its Atarisoft label. Most famously for the Commodore 64. Of course, the North American video game market crash was right around the corner. So before long Warner Communications (Warner Media) would sell the home division of Atari to Jack Tramiel, who had been pushed out of Commodore. This version of Atari was called Atari Corp. to differentiate itself from the Arcade division Warner still owned. Which they sold to Midway, who renamed it Atari Games West, folded it back into Midway, and then Midway sold itself to Time Warner. (Warner Media.).

 

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But I almost went on a tangent of coincidence there. We’re talking about Mario Bros. And Atari Corp. would port Mario Bros. to the Atari 7800, and the Atari 400/800/XE. At a time when the NES was already killing it with Super Mario Bros. Though you can also find Mario Bros. on the NES as well. It’s also interesting how the porting rights worked out back then as it often led to computer platforms getting two versions of the same game. In this case, Ocean brought Mario Bros. to European C64 owners while Atari brought Mario Bros. to North American C64 owners.

 

As an aside, there were a bunch of unofficial ports and sequels like Thundersoft’s Mario Bros II, which was more or less a reworking of Mario’s Cement Factory into a bottling plant. You filled cases of bottles and put them on a truck. And if you messed up, the boss would come out of their office and berate the Mario Bros. Thundersoft was mostly known as a group of European code crackers who would give away retail games with the anti-piracy measures removed. But this seems to be the one lone quasi-original thing they did. which they also gave away. It does, of course, use Nintendo’s characters and concept. But it doesn’t seem to have lifted graphics. Many of the other ports and clones of Mario Bros. walked much closer along the line of legality.

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Nintendo itself has also given the game these stealth reissues over the years. As a mini-game in Super Mario Bros. 3 then again as a mini-game in Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga. The port jobs, in general, are pretty good. Save for one or two bad ones, every one of them gets the core concept right. Some even go above and beyond. Atari’s Commodore 64 (as Atarisoft), and Atari 2600 versions are fantastic. Yes. The Atari 2600 version is a great version of Mario Bros. Atari Corp. also re-released it when they brought out the 7800 version which is also an excellent version of Mario Bros. In PAL (European) territories the 2600 re-release came as a red label variant no less, driving completionists just a little bit more crazy as there were already two domestic silver label variants in the wild.

 

Despite, all of the ways that Mario Bros. has been available to play though, a lot of people never checked it out. Particularly, Stateside. There are a few reasons for this, but many hypothesize the North American video game market crash certainly didn’t help. Fewer people were getting games as there was a lot of drivel out there at the time. There were also a lot of consoles out there. Sure most of us remember Atari 2600, Colecovision, and Intellivision. Thanks to the wealth of info out there today many of us wish we had maybe gotten a Vectrex. But ask the average person about an underlooked good system like the Magnavox Odyssey 2, and you’ll get a blank stare. Ask about the Emerson Arcadia 2001 and they may start wondering if you’re from another world. Or on a watchlist.

 

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These days, people worry if a fourth contender tries to enter the console market. Well, back in 1983 there were far more than four video game systems on store shelves. And most of them looked about the same in what they could do. Even the ones that looked better still had very similar games on them. There were also a lot of tiny upstarts throwing whatever they could at the wall to see what would stick.

 

And the home computers were running the same games at a higher fidelity, running their own deeper experiences the consoles didn’t have the features to handle, and they were getting down to similar prices. Before long everything would implode and Mario Bros. was one game that for at least a few people got lost in the shuffle. Some of this was felt in arcades too. While I can remember seeing Donkey Kong, and Donkey Kong Jr. among the machine selection at Chuck E. Cheese, I really only remember seeing Mario Bros. at Riverside Park when the family went to Agawam, MA. on a summer day. (It’s Six Flags New England now.)

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My first experience with the Atari 2600 version was at a friend’s. They had the Atari 2600 Jr. as well as an NES. I had never seen it before. But there it was. And while it isn’t the prettiest version of the game, it nails most of the gameplay down. There are a couple of tiny things missing like the ability to jump on the POW block. But the most important stuff is there. I’d imagine a lot of people’s first experience with a Mario game was Super Mario Bros. if it hadn’t been Donkey Kong. The NES was a juggernaut largely in part because of it. And it’s much more vast, and a more complex game compared to regular Mario Bros. But here’s the thing. Everyone who has played Super Mario Bros. but not Mario Bros. Should play Mario Bros. And before everybody jumps down my throat just hear me out.

First of all, it’s a really fun game. One that has a great sense of risk vs. reward. It’s also quite competitive when you get a second player as Mario and Luigi have to rally to outscore one another. It even can be dastardly when you’re intentionally bumping your opponent into enemies to stay alive longer. But more importantly than that, many of the things you love about Super Mario Bros. began here. Shellcreepers were the forebears to the Koopas. Coins are a big part of both games. and it got the ball rolling on Mario’s platforming style. There will be plenty of times you find yourself in situations where pixel-perfect jumps and timing are the only way to get out of hot water.

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Mario Bros. is also where the earliest series’ jumping physics got started. While not the same as in the Super Mario Bros. trilogy on the NES, they are similar. You can see what that classic bump and jump gameplay was built upon. Most of the Super Mario games feature bonus stages and even those are in Mario Bros. in the form of coin stages. Speaking of coins, they make that familiar sound whenever you collect them. But in Mario Bros.,  you had better get all of them if you want that sweet stack of bonus round points. And Mario Bros. even proves itself a viable stage in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Even more so than Donkey Kong’s 75m stage.

It’s a game that is important on so many levels and is sadly overshadowed by historical factors and future Mario releases. Thankfully, Nintendo often reminds us of this with its presence in newer releases. And there is a slew of ways to play it today. Any number of the aforementioned home ports are out there for collectors to seek out. And you can still get the arcade version on the Nintendo Switch through the e-shop. The Nintendo Online service also includes sone NES and Super NES ROMs you can download at no additional charge. One of those games is the NES port of Mario Bros. So if you own a Switch, and have been considering paying the annual $20 to play against your friends in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Splatoon 2, you’ll also be able to check out NES Mario Bros. without having to track down the original Game Pak.

In any case, the next time you find yourself in a conversation about important Super Mario moments, remember that between chasing down a gorilla to save his ex-girlfriend and chasing down a dragon-turtle to save his current one, Mario ran a successful plumbing business with his brother Luigi. And it was during those years he gained the skills he needed to save the Mushroom Kingdom hundreds of times over.

MAGECAST Episode #036

With a lot of crazy extra work hours as of late, and trying to work on some holiday stuff I haven’t had the time to write as much as I’d like. But I was a guest over on the Well-Red Mage’s podcast recently. We had a nice in-depth discussion about Street Fighter II, it impacts on the fighting genre, arcades, and we also had numerous tangents. I also got the chance to mention a number of other fantastic people you ought to check out. It was a fun experience I was happy to be able to be a part of. If you missed it, you can check the link below. And do be sure to visit The Well-Red Mage. They do some great reviews and other articles on their blog.

http://magecast.buzzsprout.com/199140/2176583-036-super-turbo-hyper-ultra-hd-challenger-remix-edition-ii-street-fighter-ii

The trouble with tier lists

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Any game with a competitive setting in mind will have a host of tools for players to choose from. Okay, well most competitive games anyway. You really don’t get to select from a variety of paddles in PONG. But throughout the history of video games, many games have given the players who’ve enjoyed them some variety. By the time the Commodore 64 rolled around we had games like Mail Order Monsters where we were choosing which giant twisted creatures we were going to command and level against one another.

Of course, by the mid-1990s we had reached a point where games didn’t have to give both competitors carbon copies of one another. This was also the period when fighting games would truly evolve beyond the usual martial arts competition games we’d seen before. Data East had given us Karate Champ, Epyx had given us World Karate Championship (a.k.a. International Karate), but Capcom’s Street Fighter would move the needle a bit. It had the same approach as Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! in the sense that you were going to essentially be playing a boss rush. To a lesser extent, one could point to Konami’s Yie Ar Kung Fu.

But Street Fighter would spawn Street Fighter II and SNK’s Fatal Fury. and before long the genre would see a slew of contenders. This is the point where fighting games gave players several characters to choose from. Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, Killer Instinct, Tekken, and a host of other contenders would also enter the fray. All of them would put their own spins and tweaks on the fighting game formula.

While this was going on in arcades, in the PC Gaming side of things another major genre we love today was coming up: First-Person-Shooters. Obviously, we think of games like Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM for wowing everyone by putting us in the head of a hero. But DOOM, Rise Of The Triad, Duke Nukem 3D, and Quake brought us the Deathmatch. And while most of these games gave us all the same character, they all had different weapons strewn throughout their maps. Before long, the FPS would be bringing us multiplayer-focused experiences like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament. 

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But these genres’ options in characters and weapons both led to something. Something called the tier list.

Tier lists are most referenced in fighting games but they also show up in First-Person Shooters due to the possible weapon matchups that can occur at any given time. Within a few weeks of release, you’ll begin to see them pop up in their respective game communities. Showing off brackets that group the combatants or the weapons into different levels or “Tiers” of effectiveness in battle.

These lists change continually over the lifespan of their respective games. As new strategies are discovered, new content is added via DLC, and when patches are created by the developers to fix bugs or rebalance the game they’re redone. Who makes these lists? Usually, it’s the absolute best players of any given competitive game. The top 1% of the top 10% of tournament level players. Here, they lay their opinions down at the feet of everyone in the community. And to be honest, at that level of play it makes some sense. It gives the absolute best players a good idea of which matchups are going to be the most difficult, or most balanced among two players of equal skill.

The problem is that these lists are not gospel. Even among the top bracket, there will be a lot of debate because one player might intricately know a supposedly lower-tier character or weapon has a technique or talent that isn’t being given enough credit by the author. And sometimes these debates may change the writer’s mind.

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Be that as it may, the unfortunate trend in recent years has been that average people have been taking these lists as concrete law. Leading to a swath of people entering into a game like Street Fighter V, going on Eventhubs to find Karin on the top of the list and immediately choosing to use them. Because they want to win, and in their minds being number 1 on their list means they should always win.

It doesn’t take anything else into account. Why did the authors think Karin was the best character in the game? What does the character have over the other characters? How complicated are these advantages to learn? Are they really *that* much better? Because if one pays any attention they’ll notice that some matchups are nearly even, and there are even a couple of characters that give them some trouble.

And whether you decide to believe a list or not, these were generally made by people who have tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of hours in experience in it. Those who have mastered most of the fighters in a game or weapons in a game as well as arenas and maps. What they’re talking about pertains to a very small portion of the audience playing the game regularly. Although with things like Tiermaker, pretty much anyone can make one about anything. I made a joke list for a private group below.

 

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The reality is that if you take any of the best players in a given game, and force them to use the tools they haven’t written a lot of fondness for they’ll still likely win even if they think they’re using inferior tools. Because they have enough of a handle on the ins and outs of that weapon. They know exactly where the best sniper locations are, and they’ll still take you out with the pea shooter. They know when you’re going to try to use that awesome super and they’re going to make you whiff it. And when you do they will absolutely punish you.

Until you get to that kind of a level of talent in your favorite competitive game, pay no mind to these kinds of lists. Instead, find that character you like, or that weapon you feel comfortable with and try to go as far as you can with them. Along the way, you may just discover things even some of those who are objectively better than you haven’t yet. Then use those things to your advantage. To truly get better at any competitive game you’ll have to get used to losing and analyzing those losses. Eventually, you’ll start finding those holes in your plans and patching them. You’ll change strategies. Something far more effective than looking at a list and changing a character or a weapon.

Splatoon 2’s competitive scene map debate.

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Recently, one of the top European Splatoon 2 players did a couple of video episodes on their thoughts about how they felt they could grow the community. Ways to help not only the top players keep their knowledge of the game ever-growing, but to welcome more people who are new to the multiplayer aspect of the game into playing more competitively. One of the major thoughts he had about this was to have the tournament scene agree on reducing the number of maps to use.

ThatSrb2DUDE argues that due to the fact that there are four major modes in the game (five if you find the odd tournament that includes the base Turf War mode) there are north of 100 maps in the game when you consider that there are small changes to each map for each mode. For example, if you fire up Shellendorf Institute on Splat Zones, you’ll notice some slight alterations to the basic Turf War version of the map. And that this added complexity could potentially turn off some people from getting into the competitive side of the game because of it. Instead of knowing 23 basic maps they have to know the 23 basic maps plus the four variations of each. So in a way, yes that’s 92 if you count variations. 115 if you’re also counting the basic Turf War mode as well. As he points out, most of the tournaments don’t play Turf War, but a handful of tournaments do play them so it’s worth noting.

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I want to start out by saying I do see where this movement comes from. If you’ve never played the game or you’ve only played a little of it and then decide you’d like to see what competitive gaming is like,  that is a lot of nuances to get by. Many of the changes to the maps between are true, minor, but they can greatly change the methods of which you traverse your way to the goals.

Be that as it may, I think I have a unique perspective on this, as from 2002-2009 I played a lot of competitive Unreal Tournament games. Now while I was never anywhere near a top dog in terms of getting out to scores of tournaments and racking up wins, I was in a clan and we had a lot of scrimmages. UT, UT 2k3/2k4. and UT3  all featured a scene with far more maps than Splatoon 2. That’s because not only were there whichever maps came with the game but also multiple modes and the community created thousands of maps and mods. Many of these also were played in tournaments.

MXCUT2k4

He brings up the point in the video that some may cite a lack of variety if some map/mode combinations were ignored but that all 23 base maps would have at least one of their variants played so there would still be variety. And that is true. But from my time in UT, the map variety could be endless depending on the given tournament you were in. But many would point out and rightfully so, that in UT most of the maps were made for specific modes. Facing Worlds was made for CTF for example.

Still, it was possible for the community to alter maps for other modes or even invent entirely new ones. I know my clan had a hell of a time playing 2k4 Freeze Tag, a fun take on Team Deathmatch where everyone was frozen in place when killed, and a teammate would have to revive you. The round would end when one side was entirely frozen. It’s the vast kind of variety that I became accustomed to. If my memory serves me right a number of contests implemented some of this community content. Modes, maps, bright skins, the list goes on. But of course, some of these events had their own specific rules. It wasn’t just one wholesale ruleset across the board. On our server, we kept a large swath of maps going in the UT2k4 rotation. Ask most veterans of the game, and they’ll tell you as great as a map as it was, playing only Rankin could get old quick. (It was the lone map on many of the demo servers that let you try the game out.) That isn’t to say there weren’t favorites. Every UT had a variant of Deck. The original version had Conveyor, the iconic Facing Worlds and the beloved low gravity map Morpheus. UT2k4 gave us the aforementioned Rankin, Citadel, Albatross, and many more. UT3 had a few memorable ones too like Shangrila, Tolan, and Rising Sun. And it wasn’t long before each game would see ports of each other’s maps showing up in addition to the slew of community content.

RANKIN

And I think that’s where my opinion would lie. I think every tournament should be able to decide on their own which maps and mode combinations are permissible. The exception being a Nintendo backed tournament, where Nintendo would probably decide that. But since they generally do their own World Championships I don’t think that would be an issue. This way one show might allow for say Clam Blitz on Walleye Warehouse when another show might not.

I think within those organizations though they should hear all opinions because not everything the top players want is going to be appreciated by the lower-ranked players until they get to that level. At the same time, sometimes someone who is starting out can bring a perspective the more skilled players hadn’t considered before, and the organizers can try to find a ruleset that they feel best fits the needs of the different player levels.

LONGWAY

Having said all of that, I know the current professional players have a much different perspective than I do being on a different (ie: higher) level. They’re going to know things about the game that I don’t. They’re going to have a larger range of experience and knowledge seeing they have played thousands of hours more than someone at my level. Against the best players in the world, I should add. They are going to have information that is invaluable. So that isn’t to say I’m completely dismissing the idea of a mode reduction should all of the shows adopt it. And if I were to enter a tournament with three friends I don’t think any of us would suddenly not play because Arowana Mall‘s Tower Control variant wasn’t included.

But opinions were called for across the spectrum. And because I religiously played a game that called for an insane number of variations at the time,  I have no problem personally, with the maps in Splatoon 2. Or their variants. Although I will concede that ThatSrb2DUDE’s point about clams spawning near goals in Clam Blitz could be seen as cheap. If you have someone stocked up on Ninja perks, and speed perks, they could conceivably sneak into enemy territory, and rack up a bunch of free points before getting noticed with little effort. Maybe that’s something Nintendo could look into with a future patch.

GITGUD

In closing, I will say one thing I absolutely do not want to see happen is barriers being placed in between skill levels. Let me explain what I mean, using a game I loved playing as an example. Near the end of its peak, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare had a lot of beginners pick it up during deep discounted Steam Summer Sales. And they weren’t being retained due to the high skill ceiling. Now part of the turnoff obviously were some of the indifferent or even sometimes cold veterans whose attitudes were “Git Gud” rather than ask “What are you needing help with?” But worse than that, the developer didn’t address their concerns either. Instead of helping to cultivate a better environment they created “Beginner” servers where only low-skill number players could play together. In doing this it didn’t enable any of them to learn any nuance or meta-strategy. So when they got too high a level to play on the beginner servers they were just thrown to the wolves and slaughtered where many just stopped playing altogether. As wonderful as that game was, It was a huge problem that ended the life of that game far sooner than it should have. I don’t see that happening in Splatoon 2, at least on Nintendo’s end. They’ve always been good about trying to make games interesting for dabblers and enthusiasts alike.

But I don’t want to see that happen in circles of the community. You don’t want to have a system that coddles new players. They’ll never grow without challenges to overcome. But you also don’t want to inadvertently create a gatekeeping scenario where only people already way into the game will want to get invested. It is a video game after all, and most of us, even the competitive ones want to have fun. More importantly, we want people to play against, and those people are only sticking around if there’s some fun to be had in doing so. So if you do see someone new playing the game on stream or at a convention or your house, be welcoming to people. One thing I’ll never forget about Unreal Tournament III was a loading screen tip that rings true. “Practice good sportsmanship. You were an n00b once too.”

IMAYBEWRONG

Again I’m not a top dog in Splatoon 2 by any means. I’m just a big fan of the game trying to grind his way to X rank if it’s possible. I’m not in a clan and I’m probably one of the older fans as I have the salt and pepper on my chin as I crack open my can of IPA. Still, I think for a geezer in the “A” ranks, I hold my own most of the time. And no I don’t think the game should be UT, I very much enjoy it for what it is. It’s an excellent and unique take on one of my favorite genres. But I see parallels at times. Having a wide range of modes and maps is one such example.

DOME

Anyway, if you play any Splatoon 2 or even if you don’t, what do you think? ThatSrb2DUDE posted a link to a survey, that I’ll put below! It runs to 11/8/19 so you have a few days to look it over and make your voice heard. And hey, again, I am not a top-level player by any means so don’t take my opinions as facts here. But if you do happen to be at the top of the mountain reaching for the brass ring, I hope something I’ve talked about is at least useful to some degree. Either way, it’s definitely an interesting topic to weigh in on whether you’re a top-level player, a fan like me who plays regularly, or even an occasional dabbler.

Competitive Splatoon Survey.