“Weekly Vortex Episode 1: A Farewell to Scorpion” is Now Live!

As promised, here’s my first scheduled post! I have decided to move from the short-lived beta numbering of my previous “Kunai Vortex Online” videos as I seem to have a decent grasp on how to use my equipment now, so I’m effectively ‘out of beta.’ This doesn’t mean that I’m done improving my video presentation, but until I get some more editing practice under my belt, the basics will do just fine. I’m also open to suggestions on the name of my weekly series, as I’m not completely in love with this one.

Now, let’s talk about some Injustice!

When I decided to play Scorpion, I intended to learn his vortex first and focus on his neutral game later. The vortex isn’t all that complicated; any time a grounded Teleport Punch lands, he gains a hefty 25 frame advantage which allows him to either go for a low or an overhead (risky), or a free Hellfire.  Since the vortex begins so easily and can start off of any knockdown, I go for a whole lot more sweeps than I probably should.  Instead of punishing whiffs and unsafe strings with a real combo, I punish with a sweep. This delivers very little damage, but does allow me to begin my vortex if my downed opponent guesses incorrectly. The justification here is that I played these ranked sessions to work on my vortex and vortex setups. No super flashy combos, no super hype neutral game (in fact, there’s little neutral game at all), just vortex. That’s why I decided to toss a couple of particularly ridiculous rounds on this reel just to show how great it looks when someone takes almost no damage outside of the vortex.

Sadly, as I stated in my post earlier this week, I believe that Scorpion deserves to be banned from tournament play until his Teleport Punch can be corrected to no longer undermine basic game mechanics. There are multiple instances of me using it to do just that throughout this week’s video. On several occasions–the Wonder Woman match comes to mind–I use the move to dodge a tossed or soon-to-be tossed interactive object and punish with a full combo that leads into vortex. So unless the coming update which boasts more small Scorpion adjustments proves to alter the move to a more suitable state, I will be dropping the character for Evo. That doesn’t mean that I won’t still play him in ranked or casuals from time to time, but were I to make it out of pools with Scorpion, I’d feel my gains ill-gotten.

Plus Hal Jordan has enough willpower to deliver me safely to victory. Maybe.

Prepare Yourselves!

The time has come. With fifteen posts spread out across the last six months with no real reason behind when they were posted, a schedule seems… warranted. Beginning tomorrow, I will start updating the blog with two posts per week–one on Tuesday, one on Friday. The Tuesday post will be primarily text-based and will come in the form of an editorial, a review or something similar to the majority of my previous posts. The Friday post will center around a video or two and will likely have small summaries, similar to previous video posts that I have uploaded. I will do my best to vary content and step away from fighting games at least a couple of times per month to keep things exciting.

With that said, be sure to check out tomorrow’s first regularly-scheduled video update! I have so much content waiting to be cut together, this video could be about ANYTHING. (but it’ll probably be Injustice or something)

Of Matchups and Banhammers: Should Scorpion Be Banned?

Scorpion

Not even a full two weeks after first burning his hellish path through the streets of Gotham and other famed DC locales, Scorpion has been deemed ban-worthy by top Mortal Kombat players and casual players alike. With Evo 2013 looming just over the horizon, calls to ban a just-released character–presumably to prevent the character from flooding streams at this year’s largest tournament–comes off as knee-jerk reaction to many. A couple of days ago, GGA Slips posted on the Test Your Might forum with some insight on how the current Scorpion situation ties in with Super Turbo‘s Vega:

I think we are jumping the gun on this. Is Scorp cheap? No doubt. Does he break the pace and rules of the game? Obviously. Is he broken? Maybe. Should we ban him because nobody likes playing against him and Reo bodied a handful of players on a stream? No. He is a high mobility low damage character. I’ve made this point in another thread, but this concept isn’t foreign to fighting games. I’ll give a clear example. Super Turbo Vega is undoubtedly one of the ‘cheapest’ character[s] in ST. He doesn’t play by any of the rules. Zoning him is out of the question because of [how fast his wall dive is]. He’s hard to anti air because he’s got the fastest jump in the game and his jumping fierce can beat even some anti airs. He has a flip kick which is [a] good anti air and a good reversal. He has a vortex to where if it hits, you could guess wrong until you die. Sound familiar? Yet we don’t see the Capcom players banning Vega. They all agreed the character plays by his own set of rules and everyone will have to learn how to fight against him.

Slips suggest that we must simply learn the Scorpion matchup.  A fair suggestion, no doubt, as Injustice is an extremely matchup-heavy game. One can’t expect much from a Flash fighting a Green Lantern, for example, as that’s just a flat-out terrible matchup. We must, then, adapt to fight against Scorpion and some players have already begun to do so:

While this tech may prove useful in the future, should the ninja not be banned, let’s consider what makes something “ban worthy.” Regardless of what game, or even what genre of game in which two parties intend to compete, exactly what makes a character, stage, or tactic worthy of a ban remains unchanged: it must undermine the essence of the game. Video games are unique in the realm of competition in that they don’t have rules in the same way that sports have rules.  Nowhere does there exist a massive tome of exactly what rules apply to competitive video gaming, and such a tome can’t exist because the rules of video games are assumed to reside within the game itself.  The “rules,” if they must be called that, are simply the mechanics of the game in question.  These mechanics are literally programmed into the game and allow it to run as it does and, therefore, cannot be broken.  Exceptions to these mechanics would be some sort of glitch, but even Marvel vs. Capcom 3‘s DHC glitch remained a “fair tactic” until it was made obsolete by a quickly-released Ultimate version of the game that fixed the issue.

So in order to be worthy of a ban, the character, stage or tactic must directly interfere with the intention of the game’s mechanics. For such a judgment to be made, we must consider what the developers of the game intended when designing it for consumption by the hungry masses. This is where things begin to blur, but in specific instances clear-enough lines can be drawn to help us figure out the developers’ intent. Since Scorpion inspired me to pen this article, let Injustice be the example to further explain the point at which I’m getting.

When the fellows at NetherRealm sat down at their collective desks and began to design this game, they had in mind something that worked as an amalgamation of all the things they’d developed before–a magnum opus of violence and flashy graphics. Previous titles involved the destruction of background items and the knocking of ragdolled bodies through roofs and walls for the purpose of aesthetics. After all, It ‘s rather satisfying to hit your opponents so hard that their bent bodies break through stone and metal, causing a crash of debris to erupt over the fighting arena as you move in for your next blow. Pretty though it may have been, these stage transitions and blown-apart statues meant very little when it came to actual game play, so the creative powers that be called for a change. As a result of their new design philosophy, we now have interactive objects that can be torn from the walls and ceilings and tossed to cause beautiful bodily harm to our opponents and we have stages that swap back and forth as players slam tightly-curled fists into one another. Wrap a cape around it, slap a mask on it and you’ve got the basic framework for Injustice.

So if the basic framework for a game revolves around the importance not only of character selection, but also stage selection with your character in mind, and we suddenly add to the mix a character that can circumvent most, if not all of the nuances that make each stage what it is, we have, gentle readers, the makings of something literally “game breaking.” Scorpion, quite simply, breaks the game. More specifically, Scorpion’s Teleport Punch breaks the game.

Ignore his full screen, tracking unblockable; ignore the absurd hit box on his j.3; ignore the ridiculous active frames on his j.1; ignore his vortex; ignore the fact that he honestly doesn’t belong in a game dedicated to DC characters; instead, focus on the fact that if the Scorpion player anticipates the use of an interactive object–the very foundation of the game itself–he can Teleport Punch to dodge the flying generator-or-whatever, hit its thrower and follow with a full combo that leads into a vortex setup. Every other tool that Scorpion possesses merely makes him high tier. Tier placement shouldn’t dictate which character is or isn’t banned unless a character is so good that every tournament ends with a top 8 dominated by that character, and even then, one should be cautious and allow things to settle down a bit before jumping on the ban-wagon. It was only two short years ago, let us not forget, that an influx of Yun and Yang poured onto EVO streams. Even the mighty Daigo Umehara felt Yun so strong that he erred from his signature Ryu. Was it the divekick? Probably. The divekick was, and still is, even after nerfs, quite good.  But it never actually stepped beyond the boundaries set by the Capcom developers at the game’s inception. The twins were an instance when a ban wasn’t necessary, the fights just sucked.  They effectively ruined a year of EVO because such a vast number of players decided to switch from their cherished mains and move on to those always-delicious flavors of the month.

Bans in fighting games, then, are pretty rare. David Sirlin wrote a section in his guide, “Playing to Win” centered entirely around the banning of Akuma in ST, and this excerpt further drives home my point:

Occasionally, the secret characters are the best in the game as in the game Marvel vs. Capcom 1. Big deal. That’s the way that game is. Live with it. But Super Turbo was the first version of Street Fighter to ever have a secret character: the untouchably good Akuma. Most characters in that game cannot beat Akuma. I don’t mean it’s a tough match–I mean they cannot ever, ever, ever, ever win. Akuma is “broken” in that his air fireball move is something the game simply wasn’t designed to handle. He is not merely the best character in the game, but is at least ten times better than other characters. This case is so extreme that all top players in America immediately realized that all tournaments would be Akuma vs. Akuma only, and so the character was banned with basically no debate and has been ever since. I believe this was the correct decision. 

So is Scorpion ten times better than the rest of the cast? Absolutely not.  But he does have his Teleport Punch, which breaks the game in a manner similar to Akuma’s air fireball in ST. It pains me to say, as I have spent the last two weeks joyously training as Scorpion (and intending to main him at EVO), that we are left with two real choices: drastically alter/remove Teleport Punch–likely at the cost of removing his vortex game–or leave Teleport Punch as it is and ban Scorpion.  Regardless of what ends up happening, even if he remains legal at EVO 2013, I now have a moral obligation to play someone else; perhaps Green Lantern and I will make it out of pools.

Scorpion In Injustice: Gods Among Us? Get Out of Here!

In my Injustice

Get… over here? Anyway, today marks the official addition of Mortal Kombat’s famous kunai-wielder, Scorpion, to the cast of Injustice: Gods Among Us. Last week, players who had already purchased the title’s DLC season pass gained early access to the black and yellow-clad hellspawn who immediately began igniting debates over whether or not he belonged in a title dedicated to the DC universe.

Simply put, no, he really doesn’t. As much as I love the slayer of Bi-Han, he should have remained in his own universe, uh, slaying Bi-Han… again (he’s immortal, right?) and left the fight for the fate of the DC realm to be settled by its own residents. After all, only 8 potential DLC slots have been officially announced–that doesn’t mean there won’t be more, but 8 already surpasses typical DLC character counts for fighters–and there are more than enough DC heroes and villains to fill those seats without having one shamelessly occupied by Ed Boon’s favorite digital son.

But before everyone gets back to flipping tables and demanding Lagoon Boy take Scorpion’s slot instead, note that Netherrealm Studios isn’t the first company to slip their own character into a game where he certainly doesn’t belong.

Akuma in Children of the Atom

Children of the Atom, anyone?

That’s right, back in the nineties in a cast of only 10 playable X-Men characters, Capcom saw fit to include the Super Turbo iteration of Akuma as a hidden playable character.  That hidden character could have been anyone else.  We could have started the Curleh Mustache hype years earlier had Magneto been included instead. Can you even imagine where we would be in terms of hype evolution by now had that been the case? We could have skipped the Dark Ages of hype!

Capcom’s design choice made over a decade ago doesn’t justify Scorpion’s inclusion, but it does help to soften the blow a bit knowing that companies have made similar moves in the past. That in mind, consider the steps Netherrealm took to help prevent outrage over the ninja’s first foray into the DC universe. Well, his “first,” barring an incident that even Ed Boon certainly hopes to one day forget.

To start, the team commissioned legendary comic artist Jim Lee to give Scorpion a super villain makeover and even went so far as to include a mini interview with Lee in Scorpion’s character reveal trailer.  The high point of the interview was, without a doubt, at the 48 second mark when Boon declares, “I love that design you did. When we saw the design of Scorpion with the scorpion on his chest, y’know, part of us was like ‘aw, why didn’t we think of that?'”

Yes.

Further, when players asked whether or not Sub-Zero (among others) would later be added to the Injustice roster, Boon quickly assured us that Scorpion would be the game’s only “guest” appearance:

Ed Boon Tweet

This news came as a bit of a surprise, as leaked DLC lists claim otherwise.  Boon’s apologetic tone, though, leads me to believe that he either speaks the truth or is an excellent liar… or I’m entirely too naive. If he does speak truth, though, we can rest assured that the Injustice will not soon be overrun with the likes of Johnny Cage and Kano.

Opinions on his inclusion aside, Scorpion is an online assassin, mechanically speaking.  His j.3 crossup cancelled to a teleport punch creates a nearly unblockable left/right “mixup” with even the slightest lag.  Just look how fast it all happens:

If the j.3 hits, the teleport punch will combo after it and allow for a full combo followup.  If the j.3 is blocked, the teleport punch will almost surely hit the defender, leaving them open to combo.  If the Scorpion player expects that the teleport will be blocked, they can choose to meterburn it for a staggering +9 frame advantage on block.  When combined with his incredibly safe strings, unblockable Hellfire and a trait that allows for insane re-stand combo potential, a setup this hard to block is beyond unnecessary.

Here are a few possible fixes for the setup that wouldn’t result in major shifts in overall character balance or combo potential:

  1. Slow down teleport’s startup
  2. Disable special canceling for j.3 (would still allow j.1 and j.2 special canceling, but they’re not very threatening crossups)
  3. Implement a form of absolute guard only for teleport punch; if the attack before it is blocked, the defender will automatically block the teleport

Though I do not entirely agree with Scorpion making it onto the roster, I have little choice but to learn him (at least as a tertiary character).  He is built to blow up zoners with sweet rushdown.  He also has a kunai.  I pretty much can’t say no.

Let me know what you think about Scorpion’s appearance in Injustice: Gods Among Us in the comments.

Three Games You Should Be Playing

Indie gaming once led a life similar to that of underground music before the internet.  Sure, it may have broken away from the common sound of the current top 40 and ushered new siren calls into the hungry ears of eager listeners, but good luck finding it without knowing the right bar to wander into on a Tuesday night.  Game developers act in a similar fashion to bigwig music executives;  Once a style of game–the modern FPS, for example–proves incredibly popular, why not forget other genres entirely for a bit.  Load the people with what they want: auto-tuning and BFGs.  What is a platformer, anyway?  I mean, I want to shoot demons and zombies and robots and zombie robots as much as the next guy, but sometimes I like to put my gun down for a minute and play something a little less bullet-riddled.

Thankfully, in the last few years, companies like Valve have made massive strides in aiding small time developers into their well-deserved spotlights.  Today, I’d like to speak briefly about three indie titles that have brought something fresh to the gaming forefront, and at their insanely low prices–all of which hover at or below the 10 dollar mark–you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice by not picking them up.

First up, we have Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe.  This title, developed as a team effort by Andrew Morrish and the fine folks at Adult Swim Games, delivers exactly what you would expect: a platforming adventure confined to the space of a Tetris game board where your pixelated protagonist bounces from block to brightly colored block, destroying those of same colors while dodging spike traps, photon cannon shots, chainsaws and more, all for the sake of surviving long enough to top the leader board.  Classic.

The game features several playable characters and maps, each unlocked through various means–usually score-related–and sports a soundtrack that would make any fan of upbeat midi jams tremble with delight.  When you’re done playing alone, invite a friend over for some split screen action (yes, it actually has split screen)!

Next up is Subset Games’ top-down space simulation, Faster Than Light.  Take control of the Kestrel and blast your way through a series of randomly generated segments of unexplored space while trying to outrun rebel forces in order to save the galaxy.  No two runs are ever the same, and when you die, you lose.  Luckily, the game comes with a short and sweet tutorial and an Easy mode to allow you to get comfortable with the games systems before advancing on to, you guessed it, normal mode.

At first, the game seems simple enough: randomly encounter an automated rebel ship, lob a few volleys of missiles at it, collect its sweet, sweet, scrap metal and then move on to the next jump.  As you delve deeper into the unexplored regions of the galaxy, though, you’ll find that each jump feels more and more akin to the cliffhanger at the end of an episode of Battlestar Galactica where just when everything feels ‘safe enough,’ you have to switch the power off on your oxygen generator in order to power your guns to shoot down a pirate vessel before the fires in the engine room cause too much hull damage.  It all feels a lot like this.  FTL itself can actually be fairly compared to the BSG boardgame, which you should play if you’re into tabletop stuff.  Per usual, score and goal-related items can be unlocked to offer even more variety to this already huge game.

And lastly, I present to you, Awesomenauts.  Never before and never again will a game be so aptly titled.  Check out the trailer:

Grab two friends (or two bots), choose from one of 13 characters, customize your loadout, and take to the stars to battle for control of four different sectors of space.  The game plays like a side scrolling MOBA-platformer hybrid and feels a lot like if Mega Man had some how incorporated PVP and a vast customization system.  The game’s depth comes from character and team matchups, which can be greatly altered depending on how your character is built.  Kill robotic minions and other players to farm solar–an intergalactic currency–in order to upgrade your weapons to better assault the enemy team’s turrets and core.  The first team to destroy the enemy core wins.  Each match played grants experience, which allows you to level up and unlock new items and abilities in a fashion quite similar to the Call of Duty series; you can even prestige if you want to!  New characters and maps are constantly being added as free DLC, so once you buy the game, you’ll get it all!

Each of these three games can be found at the Steam store and offer hours of indie fun!