The Problems with EVO 2016 (and how it can do better next year)

As you are more than likely aware, EVO happened this month, and it was a pretty big deal! It was undoubtedly the biggest the event’s ever been, both in terms of attendance and presentation, with a split venue of the Las Vegas Convention Center on Friday and Saturday and the Mandalay Bay Event Center on Sunday. It was also the first time EVO was broadcast on national TV through ESPN2… well, the Street Fighter V part was, anyway. It was a weird transitional year, as EVO experiences the growing pains of wanting to both serve a grassroots fighting-game community, and dealing with the reality that… well, like it or not, the FGC is #esports now.

And, like any year of transition, there were issues. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time at EVO this year! I did a lot of work for Red Bull eSports that I’m really proud of (check out this KoF feature in particular), saw a lot of friends, and watches some really cool stuff go down. Of course, I also didn’t see certain friends for long enough, didn’t get to set up Fighting Vipers 2 and other obscure competitive games I like, and missed a few legendary matches for the ages. But that’s more personal gripes: this year’s EVO had some more pervasive issues that I heard a lot of folks grumbling about. I’d like to get some of those complaints off my chest here. (I know the folks at home had issues with some of the streams, as well, but since I didn’t see many of those until after the fact, I feel it’s better for me to address the issues with physically attending the event.)

As an FYI: This article’s gonna be rather picture-light, mainly because I’m not about to rip off TempusRob’s great pictures like so many others folks like to do. Go visit him if you want rad EVO photos, because we’re here to talk.

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Why I love short games

Summer Games Done Quick is a thing that’s happening right now, and I can’t help but find a bit of irony in the fact that, in the quest to be able complete games as quickly as possible, a lot of these runners have poured hundreds of hours into individual games. Many of these titles would be considered “short games,” things you’d wrap up nicely in a couple of hours with some adequate gaming skills if you were playing “casually.”1 Being short, however, is often considered a detriment to a game’s quality. Even with our massive backlogs of unplayed Steam Sale acquisitions and potentially ill-advised Amazon purchases Cheap Ass Gamer alerted us to, we still somehow view not getting a long game as a detriment.

But you know what? That way of thinking is wrong. Short games are friggin’ fantastic and I want more of them.

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  1. I kinda hate that “casual” in speedrunning lingo refers to “not playing for speed.” Under that logic, a crazy max-level all-skills-learned RPG run is “casual.” I don’t get it.

Crowdfunding and Expectations, Case file No. 9

As we’re all quite aware, the much-anticipated Mighty No. 9 released this week, and, well, it’s been kind of a mess. The review scores are middling, it’s been raked over the coals all across YouTube and Twitch streams, and everybody who thinks they can make a quick grab for nerd attention by hopping on the trainwreck du jour has been making half-assed (and sometimes shockingly misinformed) digs at the game since its release.

But here’s the thing: there’s a lot more to MN9’s problems than just some angry yellman screaming about how Keiji Inafune scammed people out of four million dollars. I’m not trying to say “you shouldn’t be let down by MN9,” because it’s not my right to police your personal feelings. But I do think it’s important that people understand that there’s a lot to take into account when thinking and talking about this game. There are countless valuable lessons to learn here: about how games are made (and why they sometimes don’t live up to expectations), of keeping hype in check, and why putting money up for anything sight-unseen is a risk you really need to consider carefully.

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Game Music Highlight: Salamander 2

I’ll be real here: I’m not a huge fan of most of Konami’s shooters, mainly because most of the stuff from the Gradius school of design punishes you harshly for any matter of mistake. I do, however, really like the Salamander/Life Force series, mainly because it doesn’t have those checkpoints placed strategically in the areas most impossible to clear when you’re powered down to nothing. (I also dig Gradius V for the same reasons.) Oh, and also because the soundtracks in them are amazing.

Gradius’s release in 1985 came at a time when sound hardware was beginning to evolve to a point where musicians could make songs that were far more musically complex than the 10-second loops ripped off of some public domain ditty. Konami was one of the leaders of this zeitgeist in the arcades alongside Namco, Sega, and Taito, and Gradius was among the first games that made people sit up and take notice of what game music could sound like. Hell, it was impressive from the point where you booted it up and waited for that bubble memory to heat up.

The musical legacy continued throughout the series and into its spin-offs, which brings us to Salamander 2, released in 1996. This was just a couple of years before Konami would begin releasing games like Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution, and future Bemani maestro Naoki Maeda (along with arranger You Takamine) was already beginning to hone his craft in the game’s many uptempo, synth-heavy tunes. In fact, there’s one tune from Salamander 2 that I’m sure the VJ crowd knows very well, and it’s this one!

This song, “Sensation,” was remixed and later appeared in Keyboardmania 3rd Mix (and the PS2 home port, Keyboardmania II, which contains music from the arcade 2nd and 3rd Mix). This was not done by Maeda, but rather Shinji Hosoe, who has had a long and fruitful career in game music (and is one of the key figures behind game music label SuperSweep).

I’ll be honest: I don’t really like this particular remix. I know, I know, it’s sacrilege to say you don’t like a Shinji Hosoe song… or a piece of Bemani music. But something about it just feels off. Maybe it’s the different instrument samples sounding kinda weird, or maybe because it hits so many of my arranged game music pet peeves (“let’s cut out the backing instruments here, it’ll sound great!”).

But you know what? Sensation isn’t even my favorite Salamander 2 song. It’s this one, from later in the game:

It’s got that same fast tempo and heavy synth, but a very different mood to it: it feels more trepidatious, because now you’re further along in the game and shit has gotten real. If Sensation is all about “HELL YEAH LET’S KICK SOME MID-90S PRERENDERED CG ENEMY ASS,” Speed is like “Well crap, we’re really in this one for the long haul, aren’t we? Hope you’re ready.” There’s also a something kind of big and sweeping about it, especially when you hit that bridge of music before the track loops. Pretty great, if you ask me.

Naoki Maeda, like a lot of key Konami talent, is off doing other things these days: last I heard, he was at Capcom working on an arcade game called Crossbeats Rev. (I don’t remember even seeing this one on my last Japan trip, which leaves me a bit worried as to how it’s faring in the market.) Given that Konami’s keen to piss their valuable IPs away, it’s doubtful we’ll ever get any new music in this style… unless, of course, they make a Salamander pachislot. At least the sound could be nice, right?

Stallion Solitaire: Pocket Card Jockey

It’s usually the games you love – or the games that are really, really bad – that are the easiest to write about. When you’re singing praise, the words seem to flow effortlessly from your pen – and the same goes for when you’re telling everyone about a phenomenal piece of hot garbage.

But Pocket Card Jockey for the 3DS? Hoo boy. I mean, how do you even begin to sell this concept of horse-racing sim solitaire to people? That sounds like the most aggressively boring thing on the planet. In actuality, though, it’s an amazingly complex and deep game! …with a huge mess of intertwining game systems that sounds like complete gibberish if you try to describe them rather than showing them.

But by god, I’m gonna try. Because you know what? Pocket Card Jockey is already one of the best games released in 2016. No horsin’ around.

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The growing pains of eSports, case study: Magical Stone

The world of competitive gaming has existed for ages, yet it’s only recently that it’s become big business globally under the nebulous banner of “eSports.” eSports is very quickly turning into a huge moneymaker, but it’s also a field that’s going through some serious growing pains: bad contracts for players, shady team managers and sponsors, cheating and rigged game scandals… basically, all of the problems that plague more physical sports, but with additional internet drama attached due to the online-connected nature of many of these titles (and the online presence of the players and companies).

But what happens when the game itself is the subject of scrutiny?

Japan doesn’t have quite the reputation for being an eSports hub as other Asian countries do, but the field is definitely growing: numerous local teams have been formed, an eSports square has opened in Akihabara, League of Legends has been making a Japanese push, Daigo Umehara is a bestselling author… and that’s just a handful of examples. Longtime competitive gamers are seeing a lucrative market, which has some of them are saying “Hey, why can’t my competitive game be eSports, too?”

Such is the case of competitive Puyo Puyo. Much like the Smash Bros. series, Puyo has gone through numerous iterations, but a subset of the most die-hard players swear by one particular installment: Puyo Puyo Tsu, the second game in the series. Among other things, Tsu introduced the “offset” rule that allows players to counter each others’ garbage drops by assembling combos of their own. Versus matches of high-level Puyo Tsu are mesmerizing to watch as a result:

Sega, however, is more keen on promoting their current version of Puyo than Tsu, leaving competitive players feeling a bit left out – there’s not really a good way to play Puyo Tsu online, much less any sort of streamlining to aid competitive play. That’s where Magical Stone comes in. Basically, it’s a puzzle game that’s ~heavily inspired~ by Puyo Tsu, only with a few additions to make the game more eSports-friendly. In fact, there’s already an eSports team for the game with a few top Puyo players onboard!

…Or, there was, anyway. See, things got… complicated. Friend of the site Gosokkyu alerted me to ongoing drama surrounding Magical Stone via Twitter, and having a passing interest in the Japanese competitive puzzle game scene, I wanted to dig into things a bit more. So, I invited him here to share his knowledge of just what went down with this game — while the controversies have garnered some press on the Japanese side of things, Western eSports coverage completely overlooked Magical Stone. And that’s a shame, because this is an example of what can go wrong when you try and elevate your game to the big leagues — and both players and developers could stand to learn from it.

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Gaming.moe’s Second-Annual Kusogecast this April 1st!

We’ve been around for a while now, and I’ve been doing my best to try and establish a few traditions around these parts. Last year on April Fools’ Day, we ran the Kusogecast, which involved many hours of playing a wide variety of garbage for your entertainment.

Well, we’re doing it again! We’re still going to play awful games for a lengthy stretch of time, but this go-around we’re going to limit it to a single title. We’re going to see how far I can get into the legendary Famicom RPG, Hoshi wo Miru Hito/Stargazer, in a six-hour stretch.

It’s going to be painful. And amazing. Painmazing!

Everything will be going down on my stream channel. We will be starting up on Friday, April 1st, at 5:30 PM PST and end around 11:30-midnightish. Co-commentators will be joining me throughout to share in the “””fun””” and “””excitement””” of one of the most utterly unfair RPGs ever.

(In case you’re wondering: I’m playing the patched, translated version with actual saves and fixed walkspeed. Yes, I know, it’s not the 100% authentic kusoge experience, but I think constant password re-entry whenever I wipe isn’t particularly entertaining as a viewer. No savestates, at least, so I’m still suffering!)

If anything changes — which is possible, given some connection hiccups I’ve had lately — I’ll be sure to post it on my Twitter accounts, @Zerochan and @Gamingmoe. I’m looking forward to another April 1st of terrible retrogames, and I hope you are, too!

The 2015 Gaming.moe Waifu Awards

Ah, yes, it’s that time again – 2015 has shuffled off into the history books, and the majority of 2016 lies untold before us!  Which means it’s also time for a now-annual Gaming.moe tradition – the Gaming.moe Waifu Awards.

In case you’re wondering – no, we’re not awarding awards to our favorite game waifus, because I’d have the same winner every year. It’s a name we adopted in the general spirit of the site for non-traditional year-end awards. Rather than doing typical categories like “Best Graphics,” “Best Fighting Game,” and the ever-argued-over GOTY, we give awards based on weird, arbitrary categories based on noteworthy happenings of the previous year. (You might want to check last year’s awards to get a better idea, as I explain the concept a little more in-depth there.)

2015 was a very good year for gaming as a whole. We got lots of fantastic new releases, juicy industry drama, and promising new projects. Of course, not all noteworthy happenings were the stuff of major hashtags and gaming news site headlines. Let’s celebrate the best (and worst) Waifus of 2015! Continue reading

The Problem with Level-5

One of the most awkward feelings in the world is seeing everyone around you get excited for something and not being able to partake in said excitement. I get that feeling every time a Level-5 game is announced for localization (or, really, just announced in general). Folks on the professional and consumer side of things seem to get super hype for anything Akihiro Hino’s team from Fukuoka cooks up, while I find myself kind of sitting on the sidelines trying hard not to rain on anyone’s parade. Because frankly, I really don’t like Level-5.

“But Heidi!” you say, completely hypothetically, “What’s not to like about Level-5? They’re one of the few Japanese developers investing in big, beautiful games that have global appeal! They’re proof that Japanese game development can still be on par with Western AAA offerings! Isn’t that a good thing?”

That wouldn’t be an incorrect statement, either. Level-5 is very much like a Western AAA developer – they make games that are graphically sumptuous, filled with charm, and are appealing to global audiences. And that, I feel, is their major problem.

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Misadventures in Romancing SaGa, part 1 of ???

In retrospect, my attempt to do a SaGa theme month for November was… well, not a bad idea, really, but terribly misguided. Here I was, thinking I’d be able to blow through Romancing SaGa 1, 3, and the heavily SaGa-inspired Legend of Legacy all in the course of a month. Not only did that not happen, but I learned a very hard lesson: SaGa games beyond the initial batch of localized Final Fantasy Legend titles require an intense persistence and dedication on the part of the player. The only way these games reward you is if you’re willing to put a hefty amount of time and effort into learning their weird quirks.

Not only that, but you have to be prepared to mess up. Like, a lot.

So in the time I’d hoped to have completed three games, I wound up kind-of-completing… one. Sort of. Actually, I didn’t finish Romancing SaGa at all. Instead, I got to a point where I realized “Holy crap, going into this totally blind was a real bad idea and I’m gonna start over now that I’ve learned what it is I should actually be doing.”

Yep, you heard me. I’m going to toss all my Romancing SaGa progress out the window and restart again at some point down the line. I’m thinking in… March or so? So consider this Part One of a continuing RS1 travelogue, with a continuation down the line once I’ve played through a few other SaGa titles and had some time to read over guides more thoroughly.1

So, the question is: What went wrong this time through, and what did I learn from it?

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  1. I was offered a copy of the PS2 Romancing SaGa remake, as well, which I’ll likely also play through at some point.