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Pretty self explanatory I think.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Character Primer – Doctor Strange

By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!
When I said earlier that I wouldn’t be doing a Dr. Strange primer I think my reasoning behind that hinged upon the belief that most people reading my posts know who Dr. Strange is.

Upon further deliberation of that perceived fact I came to the conclusion that while comic fans know who the good doctor is, the fgc’s knowledge of Marvel’s mystical menagerie is probably severely lacking, so listen up while I lay down some arcane info on Earth 616’s Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Stephen Strange!

In the beginning the good doctor was nothing more than that: a doctor, more specifically a very talented neurosurgeon.  Unfortunately his unparalleled skill was accompanied by an unadulterated arrogance which ultimately led to his downfall.  Bereaved by dead family members his skills couldn’t save he lost the use of his hands and fell right to the bottom of a bottle.

Luckily he happened upon the Ancient One, Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, who decided to take Strange under his wing when he helped the wizened old wizard against his former pupil Baron Mordo.  As an apprentice Strange helped the Ancient One defend the Earth from various mystical enemies but was forced to kill his teacher when Shuma-Gorath, that’s right all you MvC fans, threatened to enter our universe through the mind of the Ancient One.

These are the sort of shenanigans that go down when Shuma's in town.

With the Ancient One dead the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme fell to Doctor Strange and he’s protected Earth, the galaxy, our dimension, and various other universes ever since.  Oh sure there have been occasions when he’s been stripped of his title, cut off from his mystical energies and the beings they’re derived from, or un/willingly passed the torch (we’re looking at you Brother Voodoo) but in the end Stephen Strange is Marvel’s one true Sorcerer Supreme.

While he’s never been quite capable of holding down his own series he helps out whenever there’s a threat too huge for his fellow heroes to handle.  Whenever something Lovecraftian threatens to burst the boundaries between the mortal plane and the outer dark you can bet Strange will be there to send it back to the blackness!

So with that short and sweet history lesson what exactly is Doctor Strange capable of?  He’s a normal human who, without his magic and talismans, is just about as fit as a man his size that engages is moderate physical activity.  Olympic athlete he’s not.  However, with the aid of the Vishanti (Agamotto, Hoggoth, and Oshtur) he can do just about anything and is said to be one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful beings.

Boom goes the dynamite!

Honestly, the guy can rearrange matter, teleport anywhere, shoot beams of magic energy that freeze, explode, electrocute, disintegrate, and he could probably create one that did all four at once plus more.  He can hang out in the Astral Plane, close up black holes, navigate dimensions that would drive any normal person insane, levitate, see the truth, and on and on and on and on.

But for all his mystical might if his hands get messed up he’s out of the fight.  It seems as though he channels most of his power through his hands, heck there’s even a comic titled “The Mystic Hands of Doctor Strange” but without them he’s gotta call on the powers of some very dangerous heavy hitters.  Demons like Zom.

This leads to
this, leads to
THIS! Who needs hands when you have spiked wheel thingys on your wrists?

In-game he uses the Flames of the Faltine, which is to say Dormammu’s fire.  Huh?  Let me explain: Dormammu and his sister Umar, and a few others are known as the Faltine, beings of immense mystical powers that are all but omnipotent in their home dimensions.  How Doctor Strange has managed to harness these potent eldritch energies is beyond me, but clearly not for the Sorcerer Supreme.

He also makes great use of The Eye of Agamotto, which is the good doctor’s go to arcane artifact.  I don’t know of any instances off the top of my head where he uses a Soul Sword, the Grace of Hoggoth, or that disc attack, though it strikes me as odd that Oshtur alone of the Vishanti isn’t a patron of a move in Steve’s arsenal.  HOWEVER!  I want everyone to notice that during his level 3 hyper Strange binds his opponent with the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak before blasting them with to smithereens.  It’s the little things 🙂

I’m won’t delve too deeply into an analysis on his special moves because Seth Killian has done that for you in the videos below, but I will say that Doctor Strange is looking amazing.  I can’t wait to see what the pros bring to the table when they get their hands on this guy.

Doctor Strange Breakdown 1

Doctor Strange Breakdown 2

As always you can follow me on Twitter at Kingofbreaker and if you feel like destroying me in MvC3 when I’m not playing Deus Ex you can reach me at iFight4food.  Until next time everybody, Sumo out!

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UMvC3 Character Analysis – Nemesis T-Type

What is this "High 5" you speak of?

AWWWW YEAH!  Nemesis, the b a mo fo from the Resident Evil series makes his first fighting game appearance ever in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3!

I don’t know how hyped you guys were when you saw him bust on the scene in that leaked character lineup but I about pooped my pants.  I love the big characters and I can’t wait to team him up with the Incredible Hulk and wreak a storm of devastation upon my enemies!

First Impression: Utterly grotesque and preeminently awesome, Nemesis looks pretty darn slow but makes up for it with some surprising range on a select number of normals and two totally awesome hyper combos.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4

Normals
The majority of his normals seem par for the course when it comes to a bruiser like Nemmy.  They’re slow but have decent reach and look to do pretty alright damage.  I’m more interested in what appear to be his aerial command normal, the one where he shoots the tentacles out of his outstretched hand (Video 1 – :27).  It has great range (I wonder what the actual hitbox looks like?) and helps Nemesis exert some mid-range pressure but I have a feeling people will be fishing with this move just like they do with Haggar’s pipe.

Geez what's the hitbox on this thing?

It also appears that he has this same command normal, if that is indeed what it is, on the ground (Video 4 – 1:26).  His jumping hard attack looks like it has great ambiguous cross up potential (Video 3 – 1:44) and I’m really curious as to whether his bazooka uppercut (Video 3 – 1:23) is a normal or a command normal.  Speaking of move classifications, what do you guys think about the Q-like overhead punch he has and uses to great effect pulverizing the Hulk here (Video 4 – 1:34)?  Normal, command normal, or special?

The reason I ask is because it looks like it can be cancelled into, wall bounces, and leads to huge damage.  I think it’s a special but…

Specials
Q Punch
Yeah I decided to include it in here anyway.  Like I said before leads to some seriously damaging combos (Video 4 – 1:34) and is a little like Spencer’s Armor Piercer in that even if you’ve already used up your one wall bounce the Q Punch will cause them to float just enough so that you can connect his Rocket Assault hyper OTG from a full screen away!  Definitely a move you’ll be seeing often, but hopefully not too often because it looks wicked punishable.

Shoulder Rush
I’m thinking it’s a command normal but I saw a little red energy animation on a few occasions and decided to include it in the specials section.  Nemesis crouches, rushes forward, and hits the enemy with his shoulder (Video 2 – :20).  Can be cancelled/linked into Q Punch (Video 1 – :50) and lowers Nemesis’ hitbox significantly, making him a much smaller target for a second or two.

Look at the reach!

Rocket Blast
Nemesis shoots a rocket at his enemy.  Looks as though it hits OTG at a downward angle, fires straight (Video 1 – :40), and possibly upwards.  Also looks as if it can be tiger kneed in the air to add a little more damage to ground combos (Video 4 – :56).  Seems like a pretty average projectile but I’m sure almost all the cast can crouch under the normal straight shot version.

Command Grab
Looks like a pretty decent command grab with some serious range.  Can be done to snag aerial characters from the sky (Video 1 – :50) and on the ground in front of him (Video 2 – :33) though Nemesis is so tall it almost looks like the normal height one misses crouching characters!  Whips enemies to the ground and bounces them for a combo.  I wonder if this takes up one ground bounce or if it’s like Thor’s Mighty Hurricane and is just a way to start a combo from the throw? Regardless, it’s just another great tool to add to his repertoire.

Hypers
Rocket Assault
Ok, I cannot get over how freaking awesome this hyper is.  Nemesis launches a volley of rockets at his enemy that OTG and after the last rocket hits he jumps into the sky and smashes down on his foe, sending them careening into the air just a little higher than Nemesis’ standing height.  Why is this so awesome?  It OTGs from full screen (Video 4 – 1:34) and then puts Nemesis right back into the enemies face for mixups!

Say hello to my little friend!

It’s not like Hulks Gamma Tsunami or Thor’s Mighty Thunder or Haggar’s Body Press.  When you use those midscreen they put the enemy a little too far away to immediately continue pressuring.  Nemesis breaks the mold in a very dangerous way and with the aid of a lockdown assist I can only imagine how scary he’ll be when he’s got you in the corner after landing this hyper.

I’m even more geeked about Rocket Assault because it looks like an amazing DHC choice.  I want to use Hulk and Nemesis together so when a Gamma Tsunami puts them a full screen away I’ll DHC into this, pick them up with the three rockets, curb stomp them, and get right back in there.  If Nemesis is on point and I connect with this I’ll DHC into Gamma Crush right after they get sent flying after the hyper’s last hit, catching them on the way up and on the way down.  I wonder if it’ll pick them up OTG while the rocks from Gamma Quake hit?  Hmm…

Also I know we’ve really only seen it hit OTG but when I was watching the most recent Capcom Unity stream I saw the first rocket fire straight out so I’m assuming you can change it’s trajectory if need be.  Cannot stress enough how useful this move looks simply because it puts Nemesis back in his opponent’s face from anywhere on the screen.

Umbrella Combination (Swing for the Fences)
Hulk and Sentinel’s super armor attacks got nothing on this bad boy.  Nemesis hauls off and starts throwing haymakers while slowly moving forward (Video 4 – 1:06).  Might as well call him the Juggernaut because it doesn’t look like anything stops him, not even other hypers!

While the super armor may tempt you into throwing this out whenever I think it’ll only be useful in some very specific situations.  Namely, it looks like a great way to bait X-Factor.  Catch your opponent in a move with a lot of hits, startup, recovery, or whatever and they’ll be forced to X-Factor.  If this were any other hyper with such big gaps between hits an X-Factor cancel might present a significant threat, but because of the super armor your opponent will need to block to stay safe and then you can DHC out of there.

Ok, so possibly a great way to force an unwanted X-Factor but you’ll still need to worry about quick DHCs into Taskmaster or Wesker’s counters.  Those’ll likely put an end to your reign of terror.  Not only that but moves with lots of invincibility or that navigate the opponent out of Nemesis’ killing field (Gamma Crush, Body Splash) and possibly some throw hypers will beat it as well.  A perfect example of when to use it is given when Nemesis blows through the Kikosho.  Chun-Li had no meter to DHC.  That’s when you want to use it.

The punches have ridiculous range but hit high so I’m assuming a lot of characters will be able to duck under this and it might be completely useless against characters like Amaterasu.  Overall a great hyper but very situational.

Blech!

Level 3
The most disgusting hyper in Marvel vs. Capcom history.  Nemesis transforms into his nasty super saiyan of grotesqueness form, tentacles, tumors, and all and puts the hurt on his enemy (Video 1 – :54).  Not much else to say about this besides it’ll be great for unsuspecting enemies when you’ve got the meter.  The damage looks pretty ridiculous, with a level 3 x-factor destroying half of Super-Skrull’s life (Video 3 – 1:45)!  Also looks like it can be cancelled into from his ground tentacle command normal, which he does in both examples.

Assists
Straight Rocket
Nemesis shoots a rocket straight through the air (Video 2 – :50).  Looks like it can be crouched by nearly everyone.  Probably won’t be his assist of choice.

OTG Rocket
I have no idea where I saw this but I’m almost positive I did!  If someone can link me I’d greatly appreciate it.  Might be good for characters who can’t OTG themselves.

Clothesline Rocket Blast
Nemesis runs forward with a Q Punch and then fires a straight rocket.  I saw this on the Capcom Unity stream.  Looks like a very subpar “Get offa me” assist simply because he’s so damn big and it doesn’t seem to have any invincibility.

Miscellaneous
Oh my gosh Nemmy’s enormous!  While that’s an immediate draw for me he’s going to be highly susceptible to instant overheads.  Also, for some reason the green slime explosions that follow some of his normals look kinda shoddy.  Maybe that’s just me though.

Final Thoughts
While probably not the best of the new characters, I think Nemesis has a ton of charm and a lots of potential.  I can’t wait to try him out with Hulk and work some decimating DHC combos into my game.  Then there’s the fact that he’s big and slow and he’s going to need a lot of help from his assists.  I think all of Dr. Strange’s assists look like they could help Nemesis out alot, especially the Eye of Agamotto which has some serious lockdown potential.

Until I see what’s up with Iron Fist I have a feeling that my team is going to be Spencer/Hulk/Nemesis or some variation of that.  I CAN’T WAIT TO PLAY THIS GUY!

Again gentleman, let me know what you think in the comments.  You can follow me on twitter at Kingofbreaker and if you see me on XBox, iFight4food, feel free to demolish me in MvC3 because I’m utter trash.  Gutter trash for all you Dudley fans out there 🙂

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Character Primer – Rocket Raccoon

You don’t know who Rocket Raccoon is?  Seriously?  You’re such a n00b.  Actually no, you’re not because Rocket is an incredibly obscure cosmic Marvel character, that is unless you read Guardians of the Galaxy.  If you don’t and you’re still painfully unaware of this anthropomorphic space vermin’s existence read on; you’re definitely not alone.

Until recently, say 3-4 years ago, Rocket hadn’t been in much of anything since the 80’s when Mike Mignola (of Hellboy fame) was pencilling the critter in his 4 issue mini.  Now he’s a central member of the Guardians of the Galaxy and  a playable character in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3.  Not too shabby Mr. Raccoon.

For those of you uninitiated in Marvel cosmic lore Rocket was originally a glorified orderly on Halfworld, a planet that functioned as an insane asylum in the Keystone Quadrant.  Rocket, along with his first mate Wal Rus, took care of the “Loonies” on the fertile side of the planet while the robots who’d originally served as the patient’s wardens built the inmate’s toys on the other half.

A trade war erupted between the two largest toy manufacturers, Judson Jakes and the serpent Lord Dyvyne, both were aiming for a monopoly, and stuff hit the fan.  In the end Rocket and his friends emerge victorious, curing the Loonies, deposing Dyvyne and Jakes, and even escaping from Halfworld through the previously unassailable Galacian Wall.

The anthropomorphised animal's last stand!

Honestly, no explanation can do this series justice; it’s that bizarre, but if you’re interested you should definitely check it out, if only to get a taste of Mignola’s mainstream pencils before his highly stylized Hellboy stuff. I’ve included links to the mini-series issues below from Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.  For those of you who want to cash in your MDCU subscription you got with the MvC3 Collector’s Edition, you should totally give it a shot.

Rocket Raccoon #1
Rocket Raccoon #2
Rocket Raccoon #3
Rocket Raccoon #4







Now Rocket’s blasting bad guys as the unofficial co-leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy and he’s not afraid to pull out the big guns.  I’ve heard rumblings around the interwebs that people are thinking he might play something like Cable, with a reliance on beam specials and hypers.  I’m of a like opinion, though to a lesser degree, but before we get into that, what’s Rocket capable of?

Firstly, he’s a raccoon.  A genetically modified raccoon, but a raccoon all the same.  He’s the got the strength, speed, agility, and reflexes of a raccoon his size.  His sense of smell and hearing are far more acute than humans but physically Rocket’s not too much of a threat.  One well placed punt and he’s down for the count, but you wouldn’t know it given his scrappy demeanor.

Nope, not afraid of some blood on his gloves.

While he may not be able to bench press the bar he more than makes up for it in other ways.  He’s a master strategist and tactician and well versed in all sorts of weaponized violence.  Whether it’s a bomb or a blaster, in Rocket’s hands it’s especially deadly.

Rocket doing what he does best.
Rocket doing what he does best.

So how might he play?  I, like a few other folks, think he’ll be a very heavy projectile based character, much like Arthur.  Factor in his diminutive vertical capacity and he’ll be a perfect fit for Team Can’t Touch This: any combination of Amaterasu, Arthur, Joe, and Rocket.  I’m guessing he’ll have super short strikes for normals like Joe but hopefully Capcom will give him a quick ground dash and an 8-way air dash to get in close and apply pressure if needed.  Flight maybe?  I also hope they equip him with either a jet pack or rocket boots;  I mean they do call him “Rocket” for a reason.

When I said projectile heavy I do mean projectile heavy.  He’s probably one of the few characters that honestly doesn’t have the physical capacity to handle himself in a fight.  Oh wait… Tron, M.O.D.O.K., never mind.  He’s much more comfortable with guns in his paws and fighting in zero gravity means he gets to play with some massive death-dealing machinery.

That gun's definitely bigger than he is. Like way bigger.

Personally I think calling Rocket a cute and fuzzy Cable without seeing how he plays is silly, but I suppose the comparison can be drawn.  I think he’ll have an awesome projectile game with quick dashes to help him start combos.  He’ll be a zoner for the most part, like Arthur or Chris, bringing the pain from a distance and you’ll need to get exceptionally close to do damage with his tiny raccoon limbs.  I think he’ll be a strange mix between Joe, Arthur, and Chris.  Does that make sense?

I want to see him wielding a ton of different futuristic-looking guns bigger than he is while flying all over the screen raining deadly light down on his enemies.  I hope he has an 8-way air dash and a rocket pack/skates.  I hope he becomes #1 on people’s Most Annoying Character lists.  I hope he’s viable because I think he could be tons of fun to play.

Regardless, I hope this gave you guys a little info on good ol’ Rocket Raccoon.  If you’re craving more Marvel madness let me know in the comments and if you’d like me to do one of these for Doctor Strange I’d be more than happy to oblige, though I figured people knew enough about Marvel’s magical mystic.  I don’t want to be redundant.  Should I add more Marvel history or just stick to the pertinent fighting game stuff?  Also let me know if you’d like me to analyze the gameplay videos of the newly revealed characters like I did for MvC3.  I’d like to do one for Nemesis this week.  He looks so boss.

If you’d like to destroy me online in MvC3 you can friend me on X Box: iFight4food and you can follow me on Twitter at kingofbreaker if you so choose.  Until next time, this is Sumo signing out!

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Character Primer – The Immortal Iron Fist

The Immortal Iron Fist!

When I first heard that Iron Fist was making a playable appearance in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 I was really excited.  I still am, though I wasn’t a fan of Danny in any big way until recently when Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker knocked it out of the park with their Immortal Iron Fist series.

They made Danny Rand relevant (again?), no small feat after languishing in relative obscurity for nigh 30 years.  Fun, fresh, wonderfully vibrant and human, The Immortal Iron Fist captured whatever it is that makes comics great and put it on the page for everyone to see.

That’s all well and good but I have a strong feeling that quite a few members of the community were and still are thinking, “Why Iron Fist?”  Why not Gambit or Venom or any one of the other characters that they voted on.  But I think that’s exactly the question: Why not?  Some people might cry and moan but the fact remains that the green and yellow-gilded kung fu master made the cut.  I’m here to explain why that’s so awesome.

I wish I had gotten this out a little sooner, before Maximilian’s Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3: MARVEL CHARACTERS BREAKDOWN, and if you’ve already seen it I’ve got a lot more info for you so keep reading.  Quickly, Iron Fist is the title held by corporate mogul playboy Danny Rand.  He’s the champion of K’un-Lun, a mystical city that appears in our dimension once every 10 years, and even then in the unreachable K’un-Lun Mountains in China.

Danny grew up there, orphaned when his parents died searching for the city in the snow.  He trained with Lei-Kung the Thunderer, the king of kung fu at K’un-Lun, won a tournament and was given the honor of facing Shou-Lao the Undying, a terrible dragon whose chi gives the Iron Fists their powers.  Against all odds Danny defeated Shou-Lao and plunged his fists into the monster’s molten heart, granting him access to the dragon’s nearly limitless chi and transformed his fists into things unto iron.

Danny vs. Shou-Lao the Undying!

Currently he’s teamed up with the other Immortal Weapons: Fat Cobra, Dog Brother #1, the Bride of 9 Spiders, the Prince of Orphans, and Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter and they’re out in the world doing kung fu and kicking tons of ass.  And there you have it, an oh so brief synopsis of the life and times of Danny Rand.  But that’s not really what you came here for was it?  You want to know what he can do, what powers he has, and how he might play in UMvC3, right?  Luckily for you that’s what I’m here to talk about.

First let’s tackle what Danny can do and what his powers are, super or not.  At the most basic level Danny is a master of kung fu and multiple other martial arts and is probably one of the top 5 best martial artists on the planet.  He’s got the strength, speed, reflexes, and agility of a human in peak physical condition. Think olympic athlete, but when you factor in the ancient burning chi of Shou-Lao the Undying, that’s when things start to get a little crazy.

In the earliest comics Danny Rand had just what his moniker suggests: iron fists.  He could punch through solid brick and steel, block bullets, and hit bad guys really really hard.  But in the most recent Iron Fist comics Danny and his predecessors have utilized Shou-Lao’s chi in some incredibly amazing ways.  Wu Ao-Shi, an Iron Fist known as the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay, infused her arrows with the dragon’s power, transforming them into burning bolts of death that seemed to rain from the heavens.  Bei Bang-Wen, an Iron Fist during the Opium Wars, could tap into Shou-Lao’s chi and use it to enhance his cerebral abilities and see possibilities and strategies no one else could.  Iron Fists are nothing if not inventive.  Hint hint Capcom!

Danny once formed a massive chi dragon that flew from his fist (think Talbain from Darkstalkers) and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw something like it in UMvC3 as a tribute to the werewolf.  Shou-Lao’s chi makes him more durable, stronger, faster, and grants him access to certain, less aggressive abilities.  He can heal himself, hypnotize his enemies, catch bullets out of thin air, smash into trains loaded with explosives AND survive (not exactly less aggressive…), and lots more.  Basically he becomes more than human while channeling the dragon.

Form of: Chi Dragon!

In short, Danny’s a physical powerhouse who can dish out a ton of damage.  Unfortunately, he’s still baseline human and he still bleeds profusely if he’s shot or stabbed or beaten on by supers and he can’t harness Shou-Lao’s power to infinitum.   Don’t get me wrong, all those years of training and the dragon’s chi help him stand up to most meta human threats and legions of Hydra agents but if his chi is drained he gets smacked down just like any normal guy and his healing powers pale in comparison to Wolverine’s.  I imagine him being a little like Akuma in UMvC3: powerful but sporting a glass jaw.  I hope that’s not the case but…

And don’t expect too many projectiles. I know I was talking about that chi dragon but that’s just wishful thinking.  Iron Fist does most of his fighting with what you’d expect: his fists.  Unlike Maximilian I don’t think he’ll be slow.  He’s a small dude and he relies a lot on his speed while dealing with bigger threats so I expect him to be a bit faster than say… Spencer, maybe on par with Akuma, nowhere near Jill.

One thing that Max mentioned that’s definitely worth thinking about is that Iron Fist is a tabula rasa.  He’s a clean slate because he’s never been translated into a fighting game before.  If there’s something that I hope Capcom does take into consideration when they’re designing Danny’s move set it’s the almost campy way the names of his and the other Immortal Weapon’s attacks appear on the page.  Here’s a quick example:

Burning Chi Thunderfoot!
Davos definitely needs to teach Danny the "Bastard's Black Heartcrusher" before UMvC3 comes out!

See what I mean?  I would love to see kanji or symbols appear when he did certain specials/hypers just like She-Hulk has onomatopoeia WHAAAMs showing up when she drop kicks somebody.

In conclusion, Iron Fist is an awesome addition to the ranks of the MvC series.  He’s got a lot of fun history, a great look, very cool powers, especially when he’s channeling the chi of the dragon, and lots of room to grow into his own unique character if Capcom’s willing to put in the time and effort.  Get pumped for the Immortal Iron Fist!

Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance: Round 3

Hello again fighting game folk.  I’m sorry it’s been so long but I’ve had a ton of crap to do and while I’ve been writing somewhat consistently, I haven’t had the time to sit down and commit it all to the blog.  No longer!  I’m happy to present the third installment of WFGSLS, and this time we’re focusing on what might just be the most sensitive issue in the series.  Let’s dive in!

Round 3 – The Game and Its Players

If you want to boil a fighting game down to its most pure component what do you get?  Give up?  The essence of a fighting game is the competition it fosters.  At their heart fighting games are all about facing and defeating opponents, digital or human, it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is the fight.  What matters is the victory!  I feel like I’m channeling a little Ryu here.

One of the most brilliant moments in fighting game history - Courtesy of Joe Madureira and Udonentertainment.com

I think of the fighting games of today like a game of pickup basketball.  To play and enjoy you don’t need any back story, character development, or an overarching narrative.  You need a ball, a net, and at least one other person.  There’s nearly infinite strategy and depth in a game of one-on-one basketball: a million ways to move and react depending on your opponent’s positioning, who has the ball, what you know about the other player, and so forth but it’s a very bare bones experience, that is to say, no frills attached.

And a majority of the community likes their fighting games this way.  In the heat of the moment no one cares that Liu Kang is fighting for the fate of Earth Realm or that Bison killed Charlie.  What matters is your spacing, the frame advantage on your attacks, whether or not you’re safe from punishment, and what your meter looks like.  Hardcore fighters are absolutely satisfied with that experience and that’s the inherent problem with fighting games and narrative: for many players, the competition and gameplay is enough.

The rise of the competitive arcade scene and the birth of home-grown tourneys and high-profile international tournaments like SBO and EVO undoubtedly adds credence here.  These guys and gals gather to test their might against the best in the world, not talk about the subtle intricacies of their character’s back story.  I’m pretty sure Mike Ross doesn’t play Honda to prove that sumo’s the strongest sport in the world, just like Justin Wong doesn’t use Rufus to get revenge on every Ken player he’s forced to fight against.  They fight to prove they’re the best, and that’s all they need.

Seth and Skisonic probably aren't talking about their favorite Street Fighter story moments - via Kotaku.com

Here’s a bit of proof I’ve sniped from the comments over at Shoryuken.com in response to my previous posts:

“From the day I picked up a controller to play X-men VS Street Fighter, and Street Fighter Alpha 3. I never cared for the story. Although it’s my personal opinion, all professional players should feel the same.  We didn’t come to hear stories. We came to fight.” ~ Odilon

“because no one really gives a damn. I would hope that the developer invests in the engine, balance, characters and extensive testing etc so my fighting game has the best possible gameplay. If the effort into the god damn story suffers, so be it.” ~ sebmaq

“With all the stuff there is to focus on in a fighting game, I actually prefer having less story so I can soak everything in.”  ~ ChapterB

“Why are people so obsessed with story in fighting games? It’s a fighting game. It’s about the mechanics not the dramatics. If you want a good story, go read a book.” ~ Jedah Doma

I just love that last one, “If you want a good story, go read a book.”  Anyway, so I’m leveling blame at the nature of fighting games, but also at the community that demands nothing more of them.  That might seem a little foolish, to blame poor narratives on players just because they enjoy what fighting games provide, but when their attitudes feed the continued development of fighters without adequate stories, it makes a little more sense.  Why should developers add story if the sales say they don’t matter?  Really, these two problems are connected and feed off of each other, a tale of souls and swords eternally retold.

Now keep in mind that I’m not trying to vilify anyone here.  If you love fighting games and could care less about the story, more power to you and it should be pretty apparent that you’re not alone.  Yet I think this mindset allows for the stagnation of the genre.  I remember reading a few comments saying that fighting games “can’t” tell good stories because it’s not in their nature, that they’re not built for it.

“Fighting games are not the stage for compelling story.” ~ bradlee289

That sort of thinking honestly saddens me and it insults the creativity and ingenuity of developers and designers while putting false limitations on the fighting game genre as a whole.  Just because we haven’t seen a great story or story mode in fighters doesn’t mean it’s not possible, it just means that we’ve become so familiar with “how fighting games should be” that we’ve stopped dreaming of the possibilities.

So what am I saying this time?  I’m saying that the narrative in fighting games suffers because when it comes down to actual competition, story isn’t necessary for victory.  I’m also saying that many players are satisfied with current fighting game tropes and don’t consider story intrinsic to the experience thus developers don’t spend time on narrative.

Yet there is hope!  Tons of commenters here at I Speak Comics and at Shoryuken.com recognize that storytelling could improve the depth of our favorite fighters and add a little something extra to our experience.  With the rise of console gaming, the decline of American arcades, and increased expectations for $60 games I think we’re in a very unique spot to see fighting game stories evolve in the next few years but only time will tell.

Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance: Round 2

The second installment of WFGSLS is here guys!  First off I want to thank everyone who commented here at I Speak Comics, Shoryuken.com, and at Eventhubs.com.  While some of your responses were pure trolling (heh, shame on you) I really appreciated the well-thought out rants, diatribes, and essays written by readers both supporting stories and not.

However, I wanted to point out that I’m not trying to force feed you the idea that fighting games NEED stories (after 20 successful years without them why would I try?), but rather I’m trying to explain why they don’t have them.  Do I believe fighting games might provide a more well-rounded experience for players if they did have a serviceable canon?  Absolutely, but that’s besides the point.  So without further ado, it’s on to part TWO!

Round 2 – Multiple Characters and Endings but a Want of Modes

SFII Character Select Screen from MobyGames.com

It’s safe to say that while Street Fighter put fighting games on the map, it was Street Fighter II that changed the game forever.  How?  By adding the character select screen.  Now what was once a single player/character experience exploded into a flurry of unique choices when deciding one’s combatant.  SFII featured 7 all-new fighters, from a bear-hugging wrestler straight out of the U.S.S.R., to a green mutated monster that somehow rolled out of Brazil’s darkest jungles.  Never before had such a whirlwind cast of freaks and fighters found their way into an arcade cabinet.  Add to that a Vs. mode which encouraged human competition and a rock solid gameplay system and you’ve got a game that people are still playing to this day.

However these unique new characters weren’t fighting in a vacuum.  In one bold and brilliant move Capcom took a huge step in sculpting the SF universe into something more tangible and gave each fighter an ending cutscene after defeating Bison, the dastardly dictator of Shadowloo and end game boss.  From that brief ending vignette you could sleep easy knowing that Chun-Li had avenged her father and that Guile had avenged Charlie, that Ryu had walked out on the awards ceremony and that Ken had finally married Eliza.  Wait, what?  And there we’ve stumbled upon our problem: Multiple characters with unique endings creates confusing canon.

Chun-Li defeats M. Bison to avenger her father by JcDizon:

Guile beats down Bison to avenge Charlie by JcDizon:

That needs some clarification, multiple characters with unique endings in which they all defeat the main boss separately, cause confusion.  Why?  Because the player doesn’t know what really happened at the end of the 2nd World Warrior Tournament.  At least not until a subsequent game comes out.  The same goes for Mortal Kombat and a whole host of other games, Samurai Showdown, Soul Calibur, Bloody Roar, the list goes on and on.

In the case of SF the character endings acted as a reward for players determined enough to battle through every warrior on their quest to defeat Bison.  So unless you beat the game, you wouldn’t know what your character was fighting for in the first place.  For some of us that doesn’t matter but it’s unquestionably poor storytelling.  Again, we can blame it on the arcade mentality.  No opening cutscenes meant the player got into the game quicker and unless they were familiar with the system, lost quicker, ensuring a constant stream of coins plinking into Capcom’s cabinets.  If a player did manage to reach the end, the minute long cutscenes probably wouldn’t have cut into Capcom’s bottom line.

Yet unbeknownst to the developer, this move set a very damaging precedent in terms of story development in fighters, as it was mimicked by almost every other fighting game at the time.  In an attempt to make every character a star in their own story, to empower the player, and foster a connection between the player and their digital avatar, they effectively retarded the development of narratives in fighting games for 20+ years.  Why?  Because very few games gave players a “true ending” in their mess of unique character-specific endings.

Mortal Kombat II Endings.  Which one is real? from samspir

Without a “true ending” game developers are forced to almost work backwards when they’re trying to set up the narrative for a new game.  They need to make it clear what happened in the previous game and then further the story from there.  If they don’t, well then you get things like retcons and developers resorting to different media sources to make canon understood, i.e. official SF sources telling info not found in-game.

So what do I want to say here?  I think that adding characters adds almost infinite depth to gameplay and creates chances for unique story developments, but because of a 20 year old tradition that gives every character their own unique story ending, in which they’ve “saved the day,” it’s very difficult to solidify canon and create a tangible, consistent story.  Not making the “true ending” clear immediately leaves players to imagine what happened and could possibly lead to extra expenses when developers release other media sources to confirm or deny story elements.  Yet that’s only half the problem.

Like I said before, these characters aren’t operating in a vacuum, and neither are their different endings.  Both of these items are inextricably connected to the second part of this post: Arcade Mode is generally the main way through which players glean each character’s story.

What I mean is that because the characters aren’t a part of a mode that distinctly supports storytelling, the developers are limited with what they can do.  Arcade Mode is immutable and constant, an intrinsic piece of every fighting game.  But if developers wanted to give the player a story, a meaningful story, they shouldn’t rely on the Arcade Mode to do it, but rather a Story Mode or maybe even go the route of Tekken 5 and give us an Adventure Mode.

We’ve been given the same host of modes since the beginning: Arcade, Vs., Online Vs., and Training make up the bare minimum when it comes to fighters.  Every once in a while you’ll get Story, Survival, Team Battle, and others to help liven up the experience but they rarely give the narrative more meat.

Standard Mode Select Screen of the Darkstalkers persuasion courtesy of GiantBomb.com

As many people in the comments have pointed out, there are exceptions.  BlazBlue has taken a big step when it comes to developing their unique universe by including a dedicated Story Mode (to some other commenter’s chagrin).  In it each character battles specific characters and the story changes given certain circumstances (win, lose, what have you) and not every character battles Hazama, the final boss.  Soul Calibur II had Weapon Master Mode which attempted to make the player the main character in their own unique narrative, while 3 & 4 tried a BlazBlue-ish route (though 3 came out before BB), with small choices between fights and even mini-games that affected your character’s health in the next match.

Then there are the Adventure Modes that never quite seem to fit, ala Tekken 5, but I suppose we can’t blame them for trying.  I think that the rise of console gaming has actually provided an outlet for more storytelling avenues in fighters and might help rope new players in for the long haul.  Instead of trying to get players in and out, players are encouraged to play for hours at a time and an Arcade Mode that you can beat in 30 minutes isn’t quite as interesting for a new player as a Story Mode that details the universe and its denizens, but I’ll get to that in a later post.

The KoF franchise actually does something interesting and has a sort of “true ending” feel throughout the series, as the story unfolds character’s gameplay actually changes occassionally (Iori losing his flames to Ash), but again, if you finish with any designated team they will have won the tournament and different plot points will be revealed, which may or may not be canon.  You don’t know until the next game.  Two steps forward, one step back.

Endings from KOF 2003 from FighterFan – Part. 1

In my eyes X-Men: Next Dimension, for the Gamecube, PS2 and XBox, has one of the best dedicated Story Modes out there.  While BlazBlue’s might be more in-depth and more interactive, it doesn’t have the same rigid style and concentration on pure storytelling.  It stands as a great example of what can be accomplished from a purely narrative point of view.  Though, having 40 years of established canon, well-known characters, and professional comics scribes working on the project is one heckuva crutch to lean on.

X-Men: Next Dimension Story Mode from vidfreak727

So this time around, why do fighting game stories lack substance?  Because a multitude of characters have their own unique endings resulting in questionable end game canon and because developers are still following a 20 year-old tradition, telling the story through the Arcade Mode without exploring the plethora of other options out there.  Teams are innovating and experimenting though, make no mistake about that, and if the depth of BlazBlue and others is any indicator, I’m excited for the future.

And that’s it for Round 2.  Hopefully this entry creates some more conversation and I’m sorry if I missed any of your own favorite examples of great Story Modes.  The sheer number of fighting games out there makes it impossible for me to catch every single gleaming exception to my aforementioned generalizations, so people with more knowledge than I are always welcome to drop some of it on me.  Stay tuned for Round 3!

Keep fighting,

Sumo out!

Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance: Round 1

I’m a sucker for a good story; I think most of us are.  A well-told tale transports you to a different world, a different universe, transforms you into someone you never thought you could be, and introduces you to people you never thought you could meet.  Stories terrify, inspire, inform, entertain and in the realm of video games add entirely new dimensions to the player experience.  We know that narrative in games is important (50+ hour long RPGs prove it), so after 20 years of fighting games why do the genre’s stories still suck?

Why don’t I have any idea what’s happening in Mortal Kombat?  What is going on in the Mishima Zaibatsu?  Does anyone know where the Alpha series fits into Street Fighter canon?  Welcome ye olde fighting game fanatics and storytelling strumpets to the first part of “Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance.”

During this series of posts I’m going to attempt to break down the reasons for the lackluster narrative and plot development in the fighting games of today.  Some are historical, like the first point I’ll be making, and some are theoretical, but in the end I hope to shed some light on the legitimate failings of today’s 1 vs. 1 fighters, their causes, and how developers and designers might be able to avoid these pitfalls in the future.  Let’s get started!

Picture courtesy of the incomparable Kineda.com

Level 1 – The Arcade

If any developer, designer, player, or writer absolutely needs to blame the current sorry state of fighting game stories on any one thing, they can blame it on the arcades, the place where this whole mad scene started.  The early ancestors of our beloved Street Fighters, KoFs, and Mortal Kombats saw their genesis in the arcades way back in the 1970’s and 80’s.  That’s where Ryu scarred the King of Muay Thai in the first World Warrior Tournament and the rest, as they say, is history.

Street Fighter hit arcades in 1987 and became an incredibly popular cabinet.  Without any formal explanation of how to pull off Ryu’s soon to be iconic special moves, players were forced to spend their hard-earned quarters figuring out the joystick motions and button pushes needed to throw their very own hadokens and shoryukens.  From there they would pit their skills against a host of martial arts experts in a bid to become the world’s greatest street fighter.  There was no plot, just the seed of a story trapped within Ryu’s drive to become the best, which has become a central theme in the Street Fighter mythos.

Street Fighter’s ending provides only a hint of Ryu’s masochistic obsession.  Thanks to Sonichurricane.com

And therein lies the first piece of the problem: the first incarnation of the most influential fighting game ever had no discernible plot.  Yet this dilemma is two-fold, the rest of the blame sitting solidly on the entire arcade mentality: player in – player out.  Think about it, most arcade games are incredibly difficult to just pick up and play well, requiring hours and hours and dollars and dollars to master sufficiently.  Combine that with flashy screen-obscuring explosions and break-neck speeds and only the players with the fastest reflexes and the best memory could ever hope to beat them.  Put all these elements into a cabinet, toss it into a crowded, distracting, noisy arcade and give players a single, solitary life (or three) and you’ve insured that gamers hoping to master the system will throw heaps of currency into your game’s gaping vacuous maw.

Why would a developer write an engrossing narrative for a game that was only supposed to be played for a maximum of five minutes per person?  Capcom wasn’t trying to forge a connection between the characters and players, but rather make a butt-load of money in a very short amount of time. They just so happened to create a compelling gameplay system for people to experiment with and exploit.  They knew they didn’t have much time to rope players into the experience, so better to grab them with their system than with a story.

As the arcade scene developed, more and more games copied the initial format of the Street Fighter franchise and its predecessors.  The “fight past a host of character in 1 vs. 1 fights ’til you reach the boss” formula remains unchanged to this day.  While the gameplay blossomed to include a variable cornucopia of new player choices: super meters, advancing guard, guard cancels, custom combos, dashing, aerial raves, and what have you, the format stagnated and would surely smell if anyone stopped to take a sniff.

Why don’t we?  Because we don’t need a great story if we have great gameplay, varied character design, and a community of players that wants to play at the highest level.  That’s what Street Fighter bred; a new generation of battle hungry fighting gamers, a hardcore group determined to compete and become the best.  At that level it doesn’t matter if you’re playing as the despicable dictator or the virtuous hero so long as you win.  That’s always been the draw, the one-on-one competition, Capcom knows it, and storytelling fell to the wayside.

Thus ends Round 1 of “Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance.”  Now you know what started this heinous snafu of craptastic character cliches and negligible narratives.  You can blame it on the arcades.  But while the arcade scene may be the progenitor of this mess, there are other, more diverse reasons for the sorry state of things so be sure to check back often so you don’t miss the next installment of “WFGSLS.

PEACE,

Sumo