Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bits and Pieces # 18: TWO.EIGHT.ONE.

New Project

PS3 library part one!
                The Summer of Platinum came to a rather abrupt end because the point and purpose of even doing it came to fruition.  It was mostly an exercise in getting me to write on a semi-regular basis to push myself to write actual fiction on a regular basis.  It worked rather well, as I started writing every day somewhere in August.  Yet, I’ve found myself in a massive rut in regards to almost everything, especially writing – I wrote myself into a wall the way some people drive cars into them – and writing in the blog seems to clear the brain meats of the overwhelming entity that is my thought process.

                Realizing this, I decided to take another gaming-related journey and jot down its progress in the blog.  The journey, or project, is called Two-Eighty-One.  That is the number of games I currently own across two consoles, a handheld, and my PC.  A great amount of which has gone unplayed or unfinished, and the idea is that by forcing myself to write about the progression through each game I own as I play them will help me finish this humongous backlog of games as well as keep me writing on a semi-regular basis.

PS3 library part 2!  PSVita included.
                This month is the birth of the Next Generation of console gaming that sees the release of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One.  I had both consoles preordered and was very excited to be participating in something I don’t ever remember happening in any generation’s life-cycle: the birth of two new consoles relatively at the same time.  Both consoles are releasing within a week of one another with a rather large library of games to support them and some pretty interestin
g first party releases on both systems.  Yet, I completely bowed out of it.

  I bowed out of the Xbox One because I looked at the game releases for the console, especially the first party exclusives and third party exclusives and realized that there were only two games being released for it exclusively that I wanted to play.  Dead Rising 3 and Crimson Dragon.

                Dead Rising 3 was a minor interest because I love zombie fiction and have since 1991, but I really do not like the Dead Rising series.  As far as zombies go, this world Capcom has built isn’t very interesting, nor is it very player friendly.  Dead Rising was a bust, and Dead Rising 2 was a complete let down, so zombie fetish aside, there’s nothing for me in this game, really.  Crimson Dragon comes about simply because I enjoyed Panzer Dragoon all those ages ago on the Sega Saturn, so it was mostly nostalgia that was wanting me to play that game.  The one game I absolutely want for the Xbox One isn’t a launch title: Titanfall.  It’s set to release some time next year.  Realizing all of that, I cancelled the Xbox One, all the games (I was buying a copy of Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts for that console as well as the PlayStation 4) and the extra controller.

Xbox 360 Library; most aren't even open!
                The PlayStation 4 was a bit trickier because that’s what I was primarily buying everything else for.  But over the span of about three days, I kept looking at my physical game library – because it’s very easy for me to ignore the digital library ‘cause it’s all in a folder with the number 135 underneath it – and my eyes kept going to the games I’ve not played, the games I’ve not finished, and the games I haven’t even opened.  So I weighed in on it logically and realized that the PlayStation 4 as well won’t hit its first serious stride until sometime next year when infamous: Second Son and The Order 1886 is released, as well as the promise of future exclusives.  Killzone: Shadow Fall, while I enjoyed Killzone 3, isn’t the console selling game that I would love it to be at this moment, and neither is Knack or Driveclub.  Add to that the fact that most of the third-party multiplatform games that are being released are really just graphically superior – and not even that much superior except for surface stuff – versions of games that are coming out on the consoles I already own.  Games like Assassin’s Creed IV, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and several others.  There’s nothing coming out this fall for these two new consoles that’s telling me that it’s something I have to own right away.  Thus, I cancelled the PlayStation 4, the extra controller, and the fifteen or so games I had preordered.

                Instead I opted to just go with the current generation releases investing in Batman: Arkham Origins, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, Assassin’s Creed IV, and Lego Marvel Superheroes.  I finished Lego Marvel rather quickly before feeling overwhelmed with the scope of the game, finished Batman: Arkham Origins very meticulously (I’ve still got a lot to do, but I took my time with this one versus Arkham Asylum and Arkham City) and once again felt immensely overwhelmed by Assassin’s Creed IV.

                A big part of it is because this game is very large and while I love very large games, it just seemed so daunting.  I’m pretty sure it’s similar to the sensation I have after I finish a book, it’s very hard for me to start a new one.  The second part of it is that I really want to go through and play through all of the Assassin’s Creed games again beginning with the original and including Brotherhood, Revelations, Liberation and Bloodline (which I don’t own currently).  So, I stopped playing, sat and stared at my game library once again, and decided to go through with this idea that I’ve been trying to do for a while.

                I’m going to play through every game I own again (some for the very first time) starting from when the games were originally released – even if it’s an HD remix or some other sort of re-release.  This is a huge task, and it’s one that’s going to influence and alter how I play games and even how I buy them.  I added the notion of writing about them as I play through them because of the wall I wrote myself into, and it gives me something to concentrate on a constant basis.  I’ve already played through thirteen of the games out of the two-hundred-eighty-one, and am currently playing through the original Resident Evil game.  Well, it’s the “director’s cut” of the game, but for the US it really didn’t alter much to the game except allow the player to use the added analog sticks of the DualShock controller and added a re-arrange mode that alters where the items and whatnot are in the game.  So I’ve already got a pretty good head start on material to write about, and I can write about this sort of nonsense at great length.  I mean, I’ve not even really written about anything and I’m already over 1100 words!

                So let’s get started.



Back when boxart was awesome.
    Jordan Mercher is a name that should be familiar to a lot of folks, but I’m not sure he is at all.  In 1984 while at Yale University, Mercher wrote several games that were never published except a game called Karateka.  This was a side-scrolling action game that involved martial arts and very fluid and exceptional animation using pix
elated sprites.  He did all the work by himself, which is very impressive, especially by today’s standards of AAA game development where the dev-studios number into the several hundred at times.  Marcher followed up Karateka – which was considered a very successful game at its time – with Prince of Persia, which is why everyone should know his name.

                Karateka and I have a very brief history.  I never knew of the game really, didn’t know what its name was, didn’t know what it was about, nothing.  What I do remember is having a very limited amount of playing time in a computer class in the seventh grade and being mesmerized with the games animation and the depiction of martial arts.  This was a time when I was just growing out of my first phase of my martial arts obsession – a very weird and awkward obsessions considering I’ve never studied practical and physical use of any martial system and only read about it and watch other people do it; I dislike confrontations of all kinds – when I first played the game and had graduated from the Atari to the Nintendo Entertainment System, so this was now well below my radar.  But the game was fun, and I sucked at it greatly.

                Fast forward to 2012 and the original game gets an HD remake for the current generation of consoles, and it went, once again, under my radar until about two or three months ago.  I saw it, as very curious about it because I remembered the name of it, the developer sounded familiar, Liquid Entertainment (which is just a coincidence as far as I can tell), and wanted to play it.  So, I bought it.

                Much to my surprise, the games approach to aesthetics was revamped in a more cartoony style instead of sticking to a very realistic approach that the original had (well, as original as you can be with sprite based animation and a four to eight color palate to select from) and the art direction of the game was centered around Jeff Matsuda’s artwork.  Jeff Matsuda is an artist I’m very familiar with.  His career began in comics after submitting samples of his work to Extreme Studios and WildStorm, two of the independent branches of the Image Comics umbrella, and he was picked up by Extreme Studios via Rob Liefeld.  Jeff went on to draw several of the books in Rob’s library including Brigade and Team Youngblood, but he really found his feet with a book called New Men which was eventually taken over by Todd Nauck.  Much like a lot of other young comic artists at that time, he seemed to just disappear from the world entirely.  Turns out, like a lot of other young comic artists at that time, he found his way into the world of video games.  A new project of his can be found at

The Karateka game itself functions primarily similar to the original.  It’s a pseudo-3d game that operates on a single plane, meaning you cannot really adventure into the world and are restricted to a very linear path as you progress.  The camera will trick you at times that you’re moving further or deeper into the world, but you’re really travelling a path of a straight line.  You’ve been given a bit more of a range in your attacks, but it’s still very simplistic in nature.  One button strikes with a punch, the other with a kick, another for a super move that you’ve to build a meter for, and a button for dodging and countering.  You progress through the game by moving forward and fighting various opponents of various difficulty, until the game just shits on you and gets extremely difficult in a very short amount of time.

When Boxart was poop!
                And by extremely difficult, I mostly mean frustrating as shit.  The game is all about timing, and you have to time your attacks in accordance to what your opponent is doing, which, I suppose, is what martial arts is, but the functions of the game’s engine leaves a lot to be desired, especially coming from a fighting game background.  You’re limited to three lives in the game which is a throwback to the games of yore – fuck you, Castlevania; I love you! – where there were no checkpoints, no auto-saving, and no saving really at all.  You had a limited amount of lives to complete the game which was, I think, primarily influenced by the main source of video game entertainment at the time where you had to drop quarters into a machine and advance as far as you could with what that quarter bought you before having to dump more quarters into it.  Ahhh, arcades, how I miss thee.  This game is a bit different in that each life you get is represented by a different character.  You get a traditional karateka (a practioner of karate), a monk-like gentlemen, and a giant fat man.  Their only differences, really, are in their physical representations and their super moves while everything else remains the same.  Vastly different from the games I’m used to that involve martial arts where you get a wide selection of characters of all shapes and sizes that behave and operate entirely different from one another.

                I played a little of the game after installing it and couldn’t get into it.  This is a gamer problem and one that sucks as a consumer, more so than any other form of entertainment.  You buy a book or go see a movie and you can’t get into it, and you’re put a handful of dollars.  With games?  The prices are all over the place ranging anywhere from 5.99 to 59.99, and me, personally, I try to make sure I get my money’s worth out of every game I buy – which is funny because I haven’t been doing that and this new project is a direct result of it – and when you first start playing a game and can’t get into it… well, that’s just disheartening.  I digitally shelved the game – it’s only available digitally, I think – which means I just ignored it on my PS3’s harddrive and went on to play something more appealing to me.  Which I cannot remember what that was.

  When I first started this project, I set the ultimate goal of having to FINISH the games before I can move on to the next one.  Karateka poised a problem in that field because I couldn’t get into it.  I forced myself to do it anyway and played through my three lives and actually reached the end boss.  This game is a conundrum.  I don’t particularly like the game because its learning curve is rather steep for what is nothing more than a generalized arcade beat-‘em-up and those kinds of games have simplistic control mechanics for that purpose alone.  They want you to play ‘em, so the simplistic mechanics lure you in, and slowly the game builds its difficulty by throwing more and more opponents at you, some of which take more than just a few combos to defeat.  But here, in Karateka?  Here you’re subjected to the control mechanics of timing and countering rather than just mashing the shit out of the buttons on the controller’s face to vanquish whatever is in front of you.  So it’s a bit tedious that doesn’t make me want to keep playing to get better at it, or at least good enough to finish the last boss of the game – which is some sort of daimyo or shogun type character with a bird as a weapon.  You actually have to fight the bird on several occasions before you make it to the castle to fight the bossguy.  I hate the bossguy.  The bossguy is like playing Guitar Hero on the worst difficulty setting and requires you to have perfected the timing mechanic in order to defeat him.  And having just one life left by the time you reach him is not something you put in the plus column.

                Did I already mention that I sucked at this game in its original iteration way back in 1988?  Nothing has changed in twenty-four years that have passed since then except I can now make it to the endboss.

                So I did what every gamer does when playing a game that they A) don’t like and B) completely suck at: I rage quit.

                Oh, yeah.

                We’re off to a good start on this brand new project of finishing every game I own by rage quitting the first game on the list!

                Seriously, fuck that game.

                Fuck you, Karateka!  And no, you’re not like Castlevania!  I hate you!

                After losing to the endboss several times with the last life I had, the big fat guy, I decided to call it quits and move on to the next game.

                Overall, this game just isn’t interesting enough to keep me going with it.  I mean, it should!  By all means it should.  I love martial arts with a great passion, and this game has me hating it.  That’s very awkward to me.  There’s nothing interesting about the game’s engine, the visuals, and definitely not the plot.  The plot of the game is the worst.  The daimyo or shogun guy with the bird has kidnapped some random lady – I don’t even know if any of these characters have names! – and the three guys that you play as are all in love with her and want to rescue her in order to marry her.  Not very interesting to me at all.  Not compelling, there’s no drama, there’s no real action of any sort of visceral content to keep me playing.

                So, yeah, I’m done with that one.  I quit playing it and moved on to something that I adore whole-heartedly.


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