Defining Hype: A Look at Evo 2014 USFIV Finals

Since Evo 2014 still lingers in the minds of fighting game fans, I want to spend some time today discussing a topic that came up this year during the top 8 for Ultra Street Fighter IV: what makes any given fighting game match “hype”? There are a couple of obvious answers to this: incredibly close matches and ridiculous comebacks and the tension that these moments create, but are these the only causes? And since these don’t happen all that often, how do we derive “hype” from a match where neither of the things are present?

First, let’s talk about the Ultra Street Fighter IV portion of Evo 2014. This year, nearly 2,000 people went to Vegas to compete in the largest fighting game tournament in the world. Once the weekend whittled those 2000 down to the best 8, we all had high expectations for what we’d see. We all had our favorite players, mine were Snake Eyez because his Zangief has some of the best footsies around, plus he’s from the States, and Sako because, well, I just really like Sako. He plays Ibuki… sometimes.

Everyone in the top 8 went on to play at near-perfect levels and the crowd met each of these perfect matches that ended in a time over–and there were plenty of them–with a golf clap, a rustling of chairs and a few stray coughs that soon faded behind the booming loudspeakers pumping the sounds of fists and fireballs into the room. The scene was tense to the point of bursting, but not because of what was going on on the screen. It had a lot more to do with what wasn’t going on: no one was making mistakes. Everyone played too well and the room of spectators knew that on some level they wanted to see Fuudo or Bonchan or whoever just do something incredibly risky and stupid and have it work because that would have been unexpected. That would have put some people on their feet.

When my buddy Menno turned to me after the first few players had been eliminated and said “there’s no hype” I had a hard time finding a way to disagree with him. For all the cerebral plays that were happening on screen, all of the small considerations behind every button press, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement to milk out of two top players locked in eternal footsies until the clock inevitably ran out during Fei Long’s Ultra for the tenth time. I found myself not quite bored, but close enough to boredom to look at my phone and check the time way more often than I would have if the hype levels had been cranked up a notch or two.

Hype is a whiff punish that combos its way to an Ultra. Hype is an unsafe mix-up that works. Hype is an unsafe mix-up that doesn’t work. Hype is taking risks. Hype is making mistakes. Any of these things could have added a degree of excitement to what was unfolding on the screen.

Don’t get me wrong, I can watch Street Fighter all day, but I’d much rather see a player like Smug show complete disrespect for his opponent while he’s rushing that shit down than watch the meticulously-calculated fireballs of any top shoto player. And the fact that the game favors defensive play more than ever has only served to suck more hype from high-level play. So is this potential lack of hype when players play “too well” a bad thing? For people who have been following tournaments for a while, no, not at all. While we may not leap from our chairs and shout every time JWong nails someone with Rufus’ crouching fierce, we can respect the entirety of what we see happening before and after that fierce was carefully calculated.

Maybe all of this is why Marvel vs. Capcom, more often than not, ends up being the most exciting event at any given tournament. The game moves so quickly that players have to rely on instincts more than they would like, which leads to some knee-jerk reactions that allow for openings in play, which, well, you can see where this is going. If people are forced to think quicker than is reasonably possible, they’re going to make mistakes. Even looking back at older, faster versions of Street Fighter shows similar results. The same calculation goes into every choice, but everything happens at far greater speeds, which not only serves to provide increased excitement, but also allows players more room to fuck up because we’re human and humans do that.

So let’s raise a toast to people who make poor decisions. Without them, life would just be footsies.

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On the Scene! Episode 3 is Live!

IbukiRooftop

I love the new training mode fight request feature in Ultra. There’s a very good chance that all future ranked match videos will follow the format that I used today. I kept the footage all in one take, because it didn’t feel right to edit out one particularly painful match (even though its… wow. It’s brutal, y’all.) It ended up being a particularly long video–my longest, actually–but when I can bounce so rapidly from a match where I try something and screw it up to training mode where I show you what it should have looked like, that’s just… I’ve been wanting this for a long time and I didn’t even know it.

The video is a return to Ibuki. I am still in the process of adjusting my muscle memory to the new chains that I should be using to maximize damage output. I’m also still getting used to the idea that landing a Super in a match should be happening a lot more than it used to. Since a couple of her target combos end with her in the air and her opponent ready to be juggled, Capcom’s intent is apparent: stop throwing knives at them so much on the ground; save them for the air!

I’ll see you next week!

Tarnot, on the Scene!

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Hi there. Remember me?

Since last we spoke–or, I guess, since last you looked at what I had to say–a few things have happened: I’ve picked up a couple of new pieces of equipment for video capture; I’ve put a great deal of time into learning some important, yet overlooked, tech with Ibuki; and our local FGC has been bringing out 10-20 people regularly. Things are going very well on the fighting game front.

Now the time has come to get back into the swing of providing you fine people of the interweb with two weekly updates! For the moment, I’ll be adopting one of my earlier models for that: text-based posts on Tuesday, videos on Friday. These Tuesday posts allow me plenty of space to rave like an intoxicated  Bobcat Goldthwait, which is always nice, and the Friday posts will let me do the same thing while playing some game or another and talking over it (I may actually rave like and intoxicated Bobcat Goldthwait.) Remember that post where I told the world why Scorpion in Injustice was just as bad as Akuma in Super Turbo? Expect more things like that (read: expect me to act like I know how to balance games. I promise that I do.)

Now seemed like the perfect time to make my return because we’re just a couple of weeks out from the release of the console DLC version of Ultra Street Fighter IV. I’ve decided that, for the moment, I’ll be messing with plenty of characters, but will ultimately keep Ibuki as a main for now. In trying to play other characters I’ve discovered that I just can’t do the same sorts of things with not-Ibukis. A lot of that comes down to the fact that I have an answer for everything with Ibuki. Did I land a back throw? Roundhouse command run twice to be on the other side of them as they wake up; Roundhouse command run once, forward command run once to be in front; short command run once and super jump for a cross up. Most of these depend on the hit box of your opponent, but I can usually gauge that on the fly, too. Meanwhile, when I get a knockdown with, say, Chun-Li, I dash a couple of times, do a jump forward and then eat a dragon punch as I realize that she has very little business using that button. It basically comes to familiarity.

Certainly, she will be changing greatly, but her changes will encourage me to, as SRK’s Patrick Miller edited into my introduction post, “actually learn how to play Street Fighter” instead of relying on nothing but okizeme to win matches [it appears that that was later edited back out.] I won’t be able to do everything that I do now, but I’ll be forced to get more familiar with buttons like 6+short. It’s got a great hit box and cancels into all of her specials. I’ll also be forced to use short tsumujis to control spacing. Basically it’s time to learn footsies at a higher level than just slapping seemingly random buttons at seemingly random intervals. I should get a lot better at the game.

Hopefully.

Anyway, it’s good to be back. I hope that I didn’t lose the attention of too many of you in this short vacation from typing. Look forward to my first video in three months on Friday. I’ve got an incredible amount of footage gathered. See you then!

What do You Want to See From Weekly Vortex Videos in the Coming Months?

I play a lot of Street Fighter IV, but I also play other things. I’ve had a couple of friends who follow the blog ask me, “man, why haven’t you finished your Dark Souls level 1 run?” or, “what happened to the Injustice ranked matches?” I don’t know, honestly. I just really like playing Ibuki, I really like learning new characters in Street Fighter IV  and I end up doing a lot of that and using it as the sole source of footage for my weekly videos, but I’m more than willing to record some different stuff as requested.

What I want to know is, what do you, oh denizens of the internet, want to see in future video content? I’m open to pretty much anything. I’d like to do a few fighting game videos per month, but those don’t all have to be Street Fighter. I have access to most current generation fighting games (no Killer Instinct, no recent BlazBlue, but I will be getting Chrono Phantasm when it drops). I’m also toying with PC game capture at the moment and could use all sorts of different Steam games.

I’ve included a poll with the options that seem most apparent to me. If you have an idea for something that you’d like to see, or even a method for employing things on the list (ranked with a new character, for example) leave the suggestion in the comments!

 

 

Ibuki in the Train Station

Ibuki KO

It’s been an interesting few days. The other night, Josh beat me so badly in a round of King of Fighters that my computer completely locked up, which required me to hard boot it. After reaching the Windows log in screen from the hard boot, ol’ compy locked up again. This happened three times, so I booted in safe mode, moved all my important documents over to my secondary hard drive and just reformatted the thing. I reformat about 1-2 times per year and I was due anyway, so what the hell, why not?

The reformat caused me to lose my settings in, well, pretty much everything, so the recording process for this video ended up a little wonky. Things are still getting tweaked back to where they used to be, but, overall, it went fine. The sound echos just a bit and the game audio gets just slightly out of sync, but it’s really not that noticeable. We also recorded in a different location this week–see if you can hear the train!

I got back into Ibuki this week after a few weeks playing Evil Ryu and I have to say, there’s just something about Ibuki that makes me enjoy playing her more than any other character. After about two rounds of reorientation, my execution with her was right where it always is, if not a little better, and I was playing the neutral game smarter. I think Evil Ryu is to blame for my new appreciation of footsies.

 

Lag, Desynchronization and why “Rubber Banding” is a Good Thing

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If you’ve ever played an online game, you’ve almost certainly been in the middle of a really important battle and swung your weapon to deal the final blow to your enemy only to have the game hiccup and say that your sword arm was just a little slower than you thought and, instead of ending the life of whatever orc, goblin or other player you were fighting, they, in fact, ended yours.  It turns out that your computer thought something different was happening than the server, and since your computer can’t be trusted, the server-side wins out. This sort of problem comes from the necessity for the local game client to predict what will actually happen in the game world once you issue a command. This command is sent to the server and the server either gives you a green light and lets you keep doing what you’re doing, or says, “hey, you aren’t supposed to be here!” and rolls things back slightly. The faster a game moves, the more noticeable this problem becomes.

The issue arises because the internet, though it has come a long way since the days of Geocities, AngelFire and 56k, still isn’t instant and has to maintain a (slightly) delayed conversation with your computer for the duration of any online gaming session. Oddly enough, this issue doesn’t only apply to gaming. In September, NASA released a video revealing that they have a similar problem when exploring space remotely and how they intend to use predictive technology similar to that used by the online gaming industry to make their rovers more responsive and easier to maneuver.

No one can argue that desynchronization is good… well, except maybe Hammerdins in Diablo 2 current “fix” for this problem–“Rubber Banding”–is worse than the problem itself. Perhaps the genre of game most affected by this problem is the isometric ARPG–Diablo series, Torchlight series, Path of Exile due to the sheer speed, amount of movement and enemy interaction that takes place. The server has a lot to keep up with and the local client has to make a lot of predictions. Directly following the release of Diablo 3, people everywhere on computers of all specs and internet connections ranging from corn-husk to T1 saw the problem manifest. “It’s 2012,” the player who just lost his level 70 hardcore character began, “can a company with Blizzard’s wallet seriously not fix this?” At the moment, the answer is “not really.”

If the local game client predicted a certain action, but the server wasn’t able to allow it for some reason–characters weren’t actually where they appeared, for example–desynchronization would occur. If this desynchronization isn’t dealt with properly, player characters, monsters, even items dropped by slain enemies can wind up in completely wrong places. So the server rolls things back slightly, rarely more than a couple of seconds. It feels terrible; it feels unresponsive, but the alternative–invisible monsters–is much worse. If the servers didn’t correct this desynchronization, hidden enemies  would rain arrows on unsuspecting players from places that the player can’t see. Players would swing swords at enemies and never land a blow, all because the player’s local client thinks things are where they aren’t. Though it feels clunky, rubber banding is the best, current fix for this situation as it allows us to see the game as the server sees it, even if we are a couple of seconds behind from time to time.

Path of Exile Beta Ends Tomorrow

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Tomorrow, Grinding Gear Games‘ Path of Exile leaves open beta and switches over into its full free-to-play mode. I had the pleasure of getting involved with the game at a much earlier stage of development a little over a year ago. It’s a lot of fun, but the timing of the closed beta to which I was invited overlapped very poorly with the retail release of Diablo 3, a title which I had been looking forward to for quite some time. I couldn’t justify spending time in Path of Exile‘s beta when I could be slashing down hordes of undead in a game that had actually made it all the way through the development cycle (though at times it still feels questionable whether or not that’s the case; looking at you, Jay Wilson). Now, on the other side of Diablo 3, I can take the time to fully appreciate Path of Exile for what it is: a hardcore-oriented take on the isometric ARPG genre.

Path of Exile can be best described as an Action RPG that’s more Diablo 2 than Diablo 2. The inventory is clunky by modern standards–each item occupies an incredibly large amount of space–so you have to really pick and choose what to pick up; the currency works like an in-depth barter system, even when selling and trading with NPC merchants (there is no gold); the passive skill tree–which mimics the skill tree in Final Fantasy X–is positively massive and honestly a little daunting; respeccing isn’t as easy as it is in most modern games and the system in place doesn’t look to be changing at any point in the future. The developers wanted to create a game where, if you felt the need to try a different build of your character, you’d need to reroll the character entirely. Small changes can be made if you just end up not liking a recent decision in your build, but a sweeping overhaul is time consuming to the point that you’re better off just making another character and trying again. This adds to the game’s replay ability in a very old-school manner: each time you want to try something different, even within the same class, you’ll need to start back at the beginning.

It’s gritty, it’s gross. The atmosphere is bleak; monsters limp and writhe forth from shadows and do their best to cut you down where you stand. It’s a whole lot of fun. Fans of the genre would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t check it out.