[Insert Witty Title Here]
Co-Op is the New Old Hotness

I must have not been paying attention, because I definitely missed the memo stating that co-op is what’s hot in the streets right now. It’s like I dozed off for a second, and when I came to, everyone had long since forgotten about the words “competitive multiplayer”, let alone pasting it onto an otherwise solid game unnecessarily.

The next few years are going to be dangerous for me. I’m a product of my time; gaming in the 90’s was chock-full of co-op local and arcade gameplay. Metal Slug, Contra, Double Dragon, Gradius, X-men, Captain Commando, The Simpsons, Turtles In Time, I could go on, but there’s a good chance that the list of co-op games in my childhood would match the length of the rest of this article.

My upbringing has made me the perfect mark for developers and publishers to push co-op titles. I have to discern between when a game is trying to deliver a dynamic team experience, and when a developer decides that one more of the same guy is enough. If a game would be better off as a whole product by focusing on a single player campaign, I’d rather enjoy a stronger product by myself than have it watered down so I can play with a buddy.

A perfect example is Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. The character-driven narrative in the FoC gives up the cooperative experience that existed in the first game in favor of making the individual characters stand out. Rather than getting interchangeable robots and samey level design, we were treated to an experience that differentiates characters from each other and further drives the narrative experience of the franchise.

Circling back to the topic at hand, solid team dynamics create a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. In a medium that is dominated by destruction as a means to an end, it takes forward-thinking individuals to see how lowering one’s own output may spell out a greater, efficacious experience for everyone involved. Tanking, support, or just overall utility all outweigh damage in terms of priority when putting together a solid team. Systems that encourage the use of diverse roles and reward players that see the big picture provide a greater experience for players and spectators alike.

This is one of the factors that make League of Legends the most successful game in the world right now. While the MOBA platform may be considered inherently competitive, it’s the cooperative team dynamics that drive the competition to greater heights. Players are encouraged (and in the case of a character bans, forced) to learn multiple characters and roles for the sake of building a stronger group, capable of facing new additions, an ever-changing metagame, and adapting to whatever tactics and curveballs their enemies may throw at them.

(There is actually a lot more to the phenomenon that is League of Legends, but that deserves its own feature. Riot is king of the world right now, and rightfully so.)

It’s a solid concept, and yet one that video gaming has only recently adopted outside of the FPS genre. Popular sports have utilized the foundation of team competition to great success for centuries. There are individual players that rise far above the rest, but their rapid ascent can be met with an abrupt crash the second their self-assurance turns into hubris. A player’s fans will suddenly (and understandably) turn on him or her if the team suffers at the hands of a one (wo)man show.

Putting oneself aside for the sake of a greater outcome reminds me of one of the most polarizing teams in sports right now, the Miami Heat. There are many criticisms thrown at the NBA champs, a number of them stemming from the accusation that their sheer existence was born of the pure desire to win. My question is why is that such a bad thing?

James, Wade, and Bosh each took a pay cut and/or left cities where they had all of the glory for the sake of accomplishing something greater as a group. Isn’t that the very definition of teamwork? Shouldn’t that be the mindset that we desire out of team sports? The desire to work as a cohesive group shows in their tactics on the court, is it any wonder that they’ve been met with such success? Creating a veritable supergroup only works to push the level of competition upward in a fashion that is almost Darwinian in nature.

But I digress; I won’t put up the pretense that I understand the nuances of professional sports. There are likely a dozen factors that I haven’t considered, and I won’t feign expertise for the sake of attempting to slam-dunk my point. As it stands, I think cooperative play in video games has a long way to go, and it’s encouraging to see the industry embrace it for all its strengths.

This might be bias speaking, but Borderlands gets it right. Gearbox touts their title as a strong co-op experience, and it delivers on that claim. Insomniac’s Fuse is a promising foray into the concept, featuring up to four characters with diverse abilities and armaments in a single third-person-shooter campaign. Uncharted teases us with a limited version of co-op, but has yet to go whole hog on the idea. Part of me is hoping Naughty Dog drops the bomb on us in the near future. Mass Effect’s cooperative multiplayer has erupted into something that I don’t even think Bioware expected, and it is glorious.

If the trend keeps up, gaming as a majority stands to see a level of content production and replay value that only MMORPGs have really made a point to keep up. And I, for one, could not be more excite

This Aint No Place For No Zer0

This Aint No Place For No Zer0

Borderlands 2 has been out for a month, and a plethora of information has been sussed out regarding the game. We have been made privy to easter eggs, ugly glitches, character corruptions, secret bosses, as well as EXP and Badass Rank exploits. The fan base has explored ways to one-shot bosses and run through entire arena rounds with one gunzerk. Indeed, the community has made a point to figure out as much of the game as possible.

Yet, judging by character popularity, a strong majority of fans have seemingly ignored something that has been staring them right in the face since the very beginning: Zer0, as the title suggests, got severely short-changed in BL2. I don’t find his popularity in the face of lackluster numbers surprising, as Roland seemed to be the most popular character in the original Borderlands at first.  A large majority of players ignored the discowalking maelstrom known as Lilith for months until there was no one left to play. Only then did the general community come to the collective conclusion that the original Siren was overpowered. In fact, she was so much stronger than everyone else, it could only be addressed by being made a main plot point in Borderlands 2.

Read More

Interview with Omar Kendall: Director of PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale had its first public closed beta event over the course of last weekend. While SuperBot was interested in testing the game’s online play on a large scale, players with beta access had their own plans. As reported early Sunday morning, enterprising members of NeoGAF leaked a number of files in the beta, confirming the existence of 20 collective characters, 14 stages, and a slew of game modes and options for both single player and vs. mode.

Though it took them a few days, SuperBot Entertainment president Chan Park posted on the official PlayStation blog addressing the leak and the future beta for PlayStation Plus members. I was fortunate enough to also speak with director Omar Kendall about PS All-Stars and how it will appeal to various markets.

Paul-Anthony LaCen: Another beta in the fall seems rather late, considering the game’s October 23rd Launch date. Will the fall beta mainly be there to test net code, server stability, etc?

Omar Kendall:The PlayStation All-Stars betas are being used to gain useful information on a number of issues, including the ones you mention. Rest assured we’ll be tuning and tweaking this game as much as we can, both before and after release!

P: Due how early the beta build was, a lot of the complaints were about things that SuperBot had already fixed. The use of a more stable build may allow a lot of the superfluous topics and complaints to take a backseat to useful gameplay feedback. Is there any intention to maybe grant players access to a later build for the beta? Or is that out of the question, especially due to the leak that resulted from just an early build?

O: The beta code currently being tested is rather old in terms of buginess and gameplay. Our intention for this phase of the beta is to test various network issues, and many of the rough areas you’re experiencing in the beta have already been addressed in the most recent internal builds. We will continue to update the beta with improvements to all areas of the game, including stability and gameplay, in preparation for our release.

P: Is the character list greater than the 20 we know of? Are there plans for characters via DLC?

O: I can’t comment on the details of the feature list beyond the characters, levels, and content we’ve already announced. Please stay tuned for more official announcements, like the one we’ll be doing at Gamescom, for your information fix!

P: How much attention are you paying to the community that intends to play your game at a competitive level? Is there any intention to possibly adjust characters in the future with patches should someone turn out to be overpowered in competitive play?

O: We’re paying attention to the feedback of our entire community, competitive and otherwise. Something we’ve already seen in the beta is how different characters appear to players as too strong or too weak depending on their familiarity with the game. We see characters rise and fall in popularity on almost an hourly basis! PlayStation All-Stars has technology that allows us to update the game’s balance without the need of a patch, and this technology is something that we plan on using to address any gameplay issues as they arise.

P: Is each character’s story independent of others, or will there be an overarching plot that links our heroes other than “well there’s this tournament and they’re all here for it”?

O: We’ll be talking more about the story in PlayStation All-Stars soon, please stay tuned!

P: With the great reception that happened at Evo, will you be going to other competitive events to promote the game? Word is that the tournament organizer for Apex, the largest smash tournament of the year, is looking for All-Stars to be a part of the event.

O: We’re very excited at the prospect of bringing PlayStation All-Stars to as many different events as possible, but we’re also not trying to force this game down anyone’s throat. My personal approach is to let the fans decide on where they want the game taken, and then support them in their efforts. I personally would love it if Apex added PlayStation All-Stars to its competition.

P: SuperBot president Chan Park addressed the datamining leak that resulted from the beta. He stated what I feel should be obvious, but probably needed stating anyway: that files in such an early build do not represent how the game will turn out in the end. Is there anything you’d like to say regarding it?

O: I think Chan spoke to the feelings had by myself and the rest of us here at SuperBot very well. While we’re bummed about the leak and any impressions players might take away based on it, we’re also energized by the positive response people are having to our beta and ultimately we think the game and it’s play do more to affect the game’s perception than any leak could ever achieve.

P: The leak hinted at a lot of extra versus modes. We haven’t heard much officially regarding this. Stock and Reverse Stock were mentioned and explained, but are there any other gameplay modes that can be brought to light? There was a mention of a “Sumo Ring” mode, can that possibly be explained?

O: I really can’t comment on any information gleaned from the unintended leak other than to direct you to Chan Park’s comments on the PlayStation Blog regarding this issue.

P: Regarding gameplay options, there were a lot of AP modifiers that came up, such as AP loss on eject, crumple and twitch. Just how deep will the AP modifiers get?

O: PlayStation All-Stars is fundamentally about AP usage, gain, and loss. You will see that many of the game’s mechanics, including the ones you mention, all mess with our players’ access and ability to use to AP. I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovering the various layers of AP strategy for players, so I’ll leave it at that.

P: It was briefly mentioned that the designers were toying with the idea of AP loss due to excessive blocking against assaults, was there any development on that front? Has the design team considered other options to discourage excessively defensive play?

O: I won’t give you a full breakdown of our combat system (I really couldn’t, considering we’re still tweaking it), but I’ll give you two examples of recent additions that discourage overly defensive play. First, we recently added AP “chip damage” to blocking opponents, which means that even against a blocking opponent, the attacker is still able to earn a diminished amount of AP. Second, we added a system called Guard Crushing that allows certain moves to defeat the defense of a blocking opponent. These two additions mean that at any given time, simply blocking all incoming attacks is not enough to nullify the AP accrual of your opponents, which should inherently discourage blocking.

P: Thank you for your time and for your answers, Omar.

O: Thank you very much for you interest in PlayStation All-Stars!

When Competitive and Casual Collide

As a game design student, my enthrallment with gaming is typically attributed to my educational path; people say “oh, that makes sense” when they learn that my fascination with gaming has turned into a professional focus. However, when I state that I enjoy the competitive facet and culture of gaming, the response is typically “why?” — or more specifically “oh, you’re one of those people,” due to the fact that a majority of my friends are gamers themselves. Being a competitive gaming enthusiast is easier to explain to someone who is not familiar with gaming culture at all, as those unfamiliar with the concept are satisfied when I equate it to being a fan of any other sport; “You enjoy watching baseball even though you don’t play it,” is more readily accepted as a valid comparison to them.

It’s not nearly as easy to explain it to some of my gamer friends, who accuse me of being “a little too hardcore.” The play-to-win mentality is painted in direct contrast to the play-to-enjoy mentality; play-to-learn applies to both sides, but is generally considered to be a third category in and of itself. Casual gamers perceive play-to-win as “I can’t have fun, I’m trying to win” or “I only have fun when I’m winning,” — the attitude of the stereotypical uptight, “too-intense” tournament gamer. Competitive gamers are considered smoldering balls of rage, incapable of enjoying a game long enough to remember why they wanted to play it in the first place. This sort of profiling also occurs in the other direction, perverting the moderate “winning isn’t everything” approach to gaming into the mantra of scrubs and gimps — demographics admonished as undeserving of consideration or respect.

Finding the moderate path in this divide is no easy task. Creating and maintaining a system that rewards casual gamers while compensating avid fans for their investment and dedication is a nightmare that haunts content designers and engineers alike. Some would say that there is no way to achieve a happy medium; that there is no amount of compartmentalizing, no leaderboard algorithm, no match pairing system that could prevent a casual fan from losing interest after being eviscerated at the hands of a more competitive player.

The human element is the key to bridging the gap between communities; a single word of encouragement or advice is capable of teaching a new player far more than any tutorial could, fostering growth in individual players of all skill levels and thus strengthening the community as a whole. An active, enthusiastic community is capable of increasing a title’s longevity by years, even decades.

A community capable of keeping a game alive for so long does not necessarily need to be competitive or hardcore in order to do so. While it stands to reason that the players who stick with a game for years are going to be heavily invested in said game, attracting new players is as much a necessity for the players of a game as it is for the developer.

Without pulling in fresh new faces, gaming communities grow into cynical clusters of malcontents — devoid of wonder and brimming with entitlement. This is especially evident in the case of MMO communities, where players burn out daily when a highly anticipated new patch or expansion doesn’t reignite the passion they started the game with. When Square-Enix released the Wings of the Goddess expansion for FFXI: Online, the lack of new melee jobs or worthwhile end-game content sent me packing, eventually finding my new home in the Smash Bros. community.

The Smash Bros. community shares a place in my mind with Fighting Game Community in that their efforts are almost the entire reason for the longevity of games like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. While Smash Bros. has found success as a part of MLG for several years, both scenes have thrived through community-regulated tournaments and unofficial forums for years afterward, with new top players emerging to this very day. The main difference between the two communities is that the Fighting Game Community is generally granted the privilege of dealing with developers that seek to embrace the innovation found in their games, while Smash and other unconventional fighters receive no such consideration from their creators.

In fact, I would argue that Masahiro Sakurai, creator of the Smash Bros. series, took actions while developing Brawl to actively spite the people that he felt took Smash too seriously, not taking into account that he may have alienated far more than his intended target with blunders like tripping or the cyclone of pent up gamer rage that is Meta Knight. (I don’t actually have a problem with Meta Knight, as there are far more polarizing characters in the history of fighting games. That said, I have not seen a character permeate and infuriate every level of his or her respective game as thoroughly as Meta Knight.) A platform fighter that has the luxury of a development team that follows it and adjusts it as gameplay evolves has yet to be seen.

I consider the disregard Sakurai had for Smash and its community as a whole to be a heinous blunder on his part, and can only hope that others do not follow in his path. Which brings me to my next subject, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. I have been following the development and portrayal of this game intently, seeking desperately for a title that had some ability to take the wind out of Brawl’s sails. When PS All-Stars was announced, I had great hopes that Sony might provide an inventive twist to the genre, but initial information and demonstrations left me feeling unsure. After having the chance to play the game with Community Manager Daniel “Clockw0rk” Maniago, I must admit that I’m a bit conflicted.

Featuring a somewhat unorthodox rule set that I can only say that I’m apprehensive of, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale provides no alternative way to KO an opponent than to build up one’s meter in order to execute supers that result in unblockable one-hit kills. While their desire for innovation is admirable, SuperBot’s ambition toward such an adventurous new system runs the risk of alienating casual and competitive players alike. By restricting the KO method in this way, the game is in danger of enforcing a standard of play that not only encourages, but actively rewards camping until the opportunity to build meter presents itself. Guarding is currently impenetrable except for supers, rolling away breaks block stun, and grabs are too slow; there’s no way a seasoned player would be caught by one unless they were blatantly not paying attention. Since players will not build meter by taking hits, a merely passable defense can shut down your opponent from making any sort of comeback.

Game Director Omar Kendall stated that the system is meant to be more accessible to novice players, who may not be able to keep up with too many meters and bars. No matter how casual someone is, reading a health bar or any type of health assessment system is so basic to the concept of fighting games that when I mentioned the reasoning to my casual peers, they scoffed at the idea. They found it insulting that a developer would deem them unable to keep up with a basic health system, and stated that just because one isn’t a hardcore player, his or her intelligence should not be insulted through an arguably “dumbed-down” system. The other rationale that the meter system acts as a proxy health bar is considerably more valid, as meter mitigation, super avoidance, and stuffing an opponent’s level one or two super can turn a simple 3-stock match into something much deeper.

While the supers in Battle Royale take some thought to set up and execute in an actual match, the truth of the matter is thatI wanted the ability to turn them off. Even if I chose to use them, I wanted their existence and importance to be my prerogative. Smash manages to appeal to casual and competitive gamers alike for the same reason—How one wishes to interact with the game is his or her choice. While working at PAX East, I played Super Smash Bros. with nearly 200 attendees. As an experienced (albeit mediocre) tournament player, I just wanted to share the love for the game with fellow enthusiasts. Leaving the rules up to my opponents, I was able to sit back and appreciate the sheer multitude of ways that players chose to interact with the game, rather than barking that the only way to play is by tournament standards.

Over the course of three days, I played time match, stock match (ranging from one stock to ten), and grab the coin mode. I played with people who used all of the items, limited them due to their thoughts on what was unfair, people who only played with smash balls, and those who balk at the idea of an item appearing on the stage. I ran into players that insisted only Final Destination was fair, while others swore that nothing could be further from the truth.

Some players told me that playing Ike was unfair in free-for-all matches, while others that playing Snake in one-on-one matches was worse; some players demanded that I only play random characters. Conversely, I played with people who knew my “Ryko” tag because they lurked Smash boards, or had subscribed to my YouTube channel, and wanted to specifically play against my Ike or Snake. I let them pick the rule set because bridging the gap to that large community, competitive or casual, was worth far more than insisting that there was one way to play. What I learned over the course of that weekend is that any facet of a game’s community can develop its own rule set and competitive standard if the game is open enough to provide the players options for gameplay. Each new rule set that I experienced caused me to prioritize my gameplay in new ways.

On the bright side, what Battle Royale currently lacks in its overpowered defensive implementation, it makes up with great offense, assuming you’re able to mount one. Each character has twelve attacks in the ground and the air that string together in unique and interesting ways. Kratos’s move set is so fluid that players will be able to freestyle their combos in a manner that pays proper homage to the God of War series. Radec’s linear close-range move set is offset by the sheer amount of ranged abilities at his command. His down-square grenade drop provides a defensive mobility that the character can take full advantage of. Fat Princess is also worth noting, her moveset employs multiple villagers that act independently of her own hitboxes, providing a level of overwhelming offense if used properly.

Not to be disregarded, Sly Cooper has the potential to be the sleeper hit of the game. True to his series, Sly’s move set exemplifies his sneaky style of play. He can confuse his opponent’s inputs, disappear, teleport, and set up a hard knockdown that can result in him stalking his opponent for another throw on wake-up, depleting his victim’s meter with every successful throw. With no universal wake-up attack option (which should be heavily reconsidered), Sly could very well end up amongst the strongest characters in the game in a one-on-one situation.

PS All-Stars has so many well thought out combat mechanics that SuperBot’s insistence on pushing its K.O. system belies what merit the game has otherwise. If every 2D fighter wanted to avoid being compared to Street Fighter, how would we have King of Fighters, Guilty Gear, or any game that uses a universally recognizable “Deplete health to K.O.” standard of gameplay? If a new car manufacturer wished to avoid being compared to Chrysler or Ford, would they instead create a car devoid of wheels and a speedometer? Moreover, would they then spend time talking about how they really hope to appeal to the street racing community? That’s a really fast way to make everyone furious.

Despite my initial reservations, PS All-Stars manages to make bold strides in an effort to provide unique gameplay through robust combos, appropriate character move sets and a smart mentality behind the offensive combat mechanics. Combat Designers Paul Edwards, Edward Ma, and Artavan Mkhikian should be commended for making a solid combatant group out of Sony’s roster, with at least four more to come next month at Gamescom. With the potential for crossplay with the Vita, the ability to turn off stage hazards, and fight stick support, this game has a chance to provide an experience that has yet to be seen in a brawler. In fact, all of Battle Royale's good points are what make the strict enforcement of the unorthodox super-only KO system so concerning.

I honestly don’t know why I’m so invested in PS All-Stars, but I truly want it to do well. I want an alternative to the stagnation and frustration caused by the way Smash Brawl was neglected by its developers. Luckily, SuperBot seems intent on taking player feedback into account, and are currently working on a system that takes away some of the advantages to blocking all the time. Daniel Maniago is a fantastic Community Manager, making videos to specifically address any and all concerns that pop up about the game (for example there is an infinite avoidance system that kicks in when your character builds a certain amount of meter). All they ask for in exchange is an open mind;  preconceptions as to what their game “should be” will do everyone a huge disservice. The crew over at SuperBot seem to be listening, and consideration from both ends will ultimately result in a better game for everyone.

I am earnestly excited that SuperBot is being given the autonomy to innovate in this way and provide their potential fans with a system brimming with options and unexpected gameplay. Sony has a chance to do what Nintendon’t, and the knowledge that they’re serious about taking player feedback into account is a surprising aspect that I am encouraged by after experiencing it first-hand. PS All-Stars will hit stores on October 23rd for the PS3 and Vita. While having a chance to play the game won me over, only time will tell how gaming audiences will receive it.

The Context Of Content

It still strikes me as odd how video games are generally considered different from every other medium. A baby by most standards, digital games are generally sat at the kids table; left to ingest the contextual equivalent of Lunchables and Capri Suns while the adults (books, movies, music) dine on the substantial content of our existence.

Maybe it’s due to the fact that I grew up with video games as a constant presence, but I feel like I’m a minority when I don’t immediately cringe at the idea that a video game is going to tackle touchy subject matter. I just turned 27, so to me it makes sense that a medium I have grown up with has decided to grow along with me.

The girl that isn’t eating her vegetables probably likes Superman 64 or something.

When I mentioned growing up, I didn’t just mean growing older. It’s not just realizing that you can curse out loud around adults and being allowed to vote; it’s the full experience of understanding when maturity and tact are needed in a situation as well as having the ability to back that up with the knowledge and assurance that I’m a grown-ass man.

A grown-ass man with hobbies that, for some reason, are considered too juvenile to supply the content that my age affords me the right to partake in. The concept that video games are in any way, shape, or form juvenile just by the virtue of their being video games is something I take great exception to. To wit, I’m not a huge fan of the gut reaction that the media has when a video game is mentioned to tackle particularly mature content.

 I totally just diaper bagged that noob. 

In this case, I’m specifically speaking of the reaction people are having to the mention of Lara Croft being beaten and nearly raped in the upcoming Tomb Raider title. Since the topic of rape is incredibly touchy (and rightfully so), I’m going to preface the rest of this article with a disclaimer. It is not a disclaimer to absolve myself from any and all dissenting opinion, but rather an attempt at humility; hopefully it is something that can be taken into account before people and women’s rights groups firebomb my house for being male and daring to have the hubris to speak about a predominantly female suffering.

Disclaimer: As a male that has not yet been incarcerated, I will never fully understand what it’s like to go through such a scenario and couldn’t possibly imagine the horror of being in such a situation. I fully understand that. I don’t want that to be considered dismissive in any way, I get that my gender and current circumstance places me in a position to not fully empathize with such a concept.

I don’t think the mention of a rape attempt in the new Tomb Raider game is necessarily as tasteless as one may initially think. It all lies in how the writers and director handle the whole thing as a part of the plot. It’s a volatile subject, and video games are rarely considered the right medium to touch upon such matters, but that’s not really the fault of video games as a whole.

Video games may be considered inherently interactive, but they are a medium. Like books, song and movies, video games can touch upon any number of subjects with their narrative and not be undermined by doing so. Some people will not be comfortable with the sheer mention or existence of certain subject matter, and they’re well within their right to not support whatever it is that touches upon said subject matter.

But we need to get over the idea that video games are somehow in this different state of existence where they don’t have the “right” to tackle mature subjects. If you’ve ever sang along to Sublime’s Date Rape or read/watched Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you’re already familiar with two to three types of popular media expressions that have touched upon the matter. If one’s gut reaction is to burn the next Tomb Raider in effigy without taking a step back to view the product and story as a whole, then it’s not the fault of the medium for attempting to tackle it.

A lot of people are also up in arms because Lara Croft is one of the few “strong female protagonists” in video games. Maybe Crystal Dynamics should have taken a note from Nintendo and Team Ninja; people happen to get fully incensed by any scenario where a strong female video game icon is placed in a position of disempowerment. Combined with even the insinuation that one of these heroines may have been the victim of attempted sexual assault, and you have a powder keg just waiting to be sparked the wrong way.

Lara being a female protagonist is a two-part equation. Lara is definitely strong female, there’s no question about that, but there’s also the part about being a strong protagonist. Strong leading roles are often subject to capture, torture, and violence. Granted, we haven’t been subject to Uncharted 5: Drake’s Dropped Soap, but disempowerment provides a new facet to our heroes; being allowed to shine in a scenario where most would be down and out. The ability to keep calm and carry on in situations that are utterly FUBAR is what makes them stand out in the first place.

We have made icons out of female characters whose pasts are mired in cotroversial sexual matters more than once. The entire history of Wonder Woman is steeped in implied sexual assault and blatant bondage, only for Diana to defeat all that would attack her. I previous touched upon the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, but Lisbeth’s rape and her strong, steadfast reaction to it actually defines her character throughout the books. She executes her own brand of justice almost immediately, but we’re constantly reminded of her trauma as she moves forward, bolstered by the knowledge that Lisbeth is stronger despite it. In this vein, I am hoping that Lara will find the strength in herself to overcome her personal nightmare.

Most of this hoopla is likely due to the fact that Tomb Raider director Ron Rosenberg completely screwed the pooch when it came to presenting this information. Interviews are tricky, direct quotes are about as first-person as it gets, but they don’t have the tact that a structured press release may have had. In Rosenberg’s place, I wouldn’t have dropped the R bomb in an interview, let alone use it as a trinket or a selling point.

You’re going to tell what is considered a largely male community that they’re going to want to “protect” this new Lara? Are you serious? You just happened to say the one thing that could take the character’s empowerment out of her own hands and instead portray her as someone that needs to be protected? I can understand the outrage with that concept. If I’m playing a video game as the protagonist, it’s patently obvious that I’m going to protect said protagonist; the character’s survival is the driving vehicle behind the progression of the narrative.

Press B to avoid making a complete ass out of yourself. 

While the content of the new Tomb Raider will not discourage me from trying the game and judging it on its merits as a whole, the presentation of said content to the media is where I feel Crystal Dynamics failed. Tragedy that people can personally empathize with is something to overcome, it’s not the same as Earth being destroyed or Superboy Prime punching and shattering reality. There’s not supposed to be a full on disconnect or a suspension of disbelief, plausible trauma is a way for players to connect with fictional characters. It allows us to feel something for someone that is quite obviously not real.

Using tragedy as a selling point happens to be an unfortunate theme today, as Sony released a new trailer for the PS Vita version of Resistance: Burning Skies, where various gamers are “remembered” with a wall memorial. Unfortunately, this actually does strike me as poor taste on Sony’s part.

It may come across as being on my high horse, but the loss of friends and family in actual wars and the subsequent mourning of said loss is not something to take lightly, let alone something to use as a marketing gimmick. The idea that this ad managed to make it to cut while Six Days in Fallujah got lambasted and accused of making light of an actual event is absolutely mind-boggling. The comparison of respawning headshot fodder to permanent loss is something Sony should have maybe thought over. Or rather maybe they were aiming for the attention, as Resistance: Burning Skies is widely regarded as a horrible game.

One could make the argument that Sony was trying to be tongue-in-cheek with the advertisement, a sort of shot at the people who take these shooters a little too seriously, but I consider it the same as using exclamation points in writing: No one’s going to get if you’re being subtly ironic. If you’re going to do that sort of thing, it can’t be ambiguous. All in all, touchy subject matter is mostly a matter of presentation. Both CD and Sony leave a lot to be desired on that note, and maybe they will take these as a learning experience and move forward from this PR tragedy.


This is going to sound like I’m nitpicking, but can we stop mistaking the difference between low-end and high-end mechanics in games? Any time I’m in a conversation where someone equates one title with another, some pedantic turd will attempt to sound like an authority and say “the core mechanics of the game differ too much to make a comparison”.

I hate to break it to you, but for the most part, strong game mechanics do not differ that much. While the comparison of a particularly good or innovative title to another game may be clumsy at best, it does paint a basic picture of how one interacts with the game. I would never say something unreasonable like “Portal is just Doom with a wacky physics engine”, but appropriation of strong low-end mechanics is a staple of game development, and with good reason.

Unnecessary deviation from stable low-end game mechanics causes the players to feel a certain level of detachment from a game. It causes an unnatural experience that can pull someone out of the interactive element of a title, which, unless you’re new to the entire concept of video gaming, is kind of the whole point of playing a video game instead of watching a movie or reading a book. Unless the new element is set as a main gameplay focus for the game (like in the case of Gravity Rush), most gameplay development and innovation comes from a variance in high-end mechanics while adopting what works from previous titles.

When trying to explain how a game works to people that are unfamiliar with it, the easiest thing to do is compare the gameplay experience to other good games they might already know. If someone asked me what Sleeping Dogs was like, the first thing that comes to mind is “it’s GTA with bitchin’ kung fu”. Outland is “Castlevania meets Ikaruga”. Guilty Gear is “anime Street Fighter with flashier combos and a burst mechanic”.

Anyone remotely familiar with any of these games can go on in much greater detail to provide you with a unique description that encapsulates the gameplay experience in a descriptive fashion, but if people wanted you to go on for an hour describing the game to its finest detail, they would have probably just read a bunch of reviews.

We know you love [insert game here] to the point that you’re insulted when it gets compared to [similar game you dislike for no reason], but get over it. A conversation getting hijacked because someone has a rage boner for a particular game only ends up alienating people and stifles the expansion of quality titles to markets that may not have considered playing them. It’s ugly, and only serves to hurt the growth of gaming culture.

Seriously, stop. It’s not a good look.

Celebrating a Quarter Century of Dragon Punches: The SF25 Tournament Series

There aren’t many series that can claim to have established the foundation for an entire genre of gaming. Inspiring a global culture of millions of would-be world warriors by crafting a universe featuring hundreds of iconic combatants spanning over sixty titles, not to mention creating the combo system (a staple of combat gameplay) by sheer accident, Street Fighter has become a definitive mainstay of video game history.

Enjoying moderate success at best, the first Street Fighter featured clunky controls and innovative but unrefined gameplay. Players were granted limited maneuvering options that restrained them from complex tactical approaches and relegated them to dependency on landing stray hits to defeat their opponents within the allotted 30-second limit.  At that point, no one would have imagined that a game with such an odd presentation would have been responsible for 25 years of gaming, competition and community growth.

To commemorate a quarter century of continued success (and as a way to promote their 25th anniversary collector’s set, an amazing deal for $150.00), Capcom has created a Street Fighter 25th anniversary tournament series as an attempt to reach out and celebrate the fans that have made the game what it is today. While at the NYC qualifier, I had a chance to speak with Ryan Gutierrez (@Gootecks), Victor Fontanez (@TeamSpooky), and the commentating tandem “UltraChen”, consisting of David Philip Graham (@UltraDavid) and James Chen (@jchensor). With this collection of long time fighting game players and media personalities, we discuss the evolution of the fighting game community and Capcom embracing its fandom.

Paul LaCen:  In what ways has the fighting game community changed in the last 25 years; has it become more intense or has it had to kind of calm down to appeal to a wider audience?

David Philip “UltraDavid” Graham: It hasn’t had to do anything. It has certainly changed; there are different people playing it nowadays. Not everyone grew up playing in the arcade, a lot of people didn’t; they grew up playing at home. That does lead into a little bit of a different culture. As the scene has gotten bigger with the release of games and the popularity of streams, there is a new influx of people. I feel that they have adopted a lot of the preexisting fighting game culture to a significant degree, but things are definitely different. Tournaments are run a little bit differently, people interact differently.

Having more people involved gives it more of a spectator feel than there ever used to be. Tournaments early on – everyone knew exactly what was going on because everyone who attended was a hardcore player, and that’s not necessarily the case today. So you have to explain things a bit more. Tournaments are growing and some of the bigger ones feel like conventions. I don’t think any of that was forced in any way though, I feel that it has been a natural progression as the scene has gotten bigger.

Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez: I guess the culture has definitely changed. It started out in the arcades, and then since about 2006, everything has shifted away from the arcades to the consoles. That changed the culture a lot because in the arcade setting you don’t necessarily have to be nice to anyone or play well with others.

The console shift changed things in the sense that if you want to get good and you don’t live in a place with a strong arcade culture, you kind of have be nicer to people. If you go into someone’s house to practice, things just aren’t as rough because generally people don’t act mean when they’re invited to someone else’s house.

Victor “Spooky” Fontanez: Although things have appealed to a greater range of people and more people are getting involved, all the people from ten and fifteen years ago are still here; most of them are still very strong players as well. But there has been a lot of growth, there are a lot of people who are just spectators, fans of SF who aren’t actually players. I feel that we haven’t had to lose anything to appeal to those people though. In fact, I think we’ve gained a lot as we’ve grown.

James Chen: It has changed significantly since I first started. In fact, David and I were just talking about it on stream. After a match, Sanford and Wolfkrone just started discussing the match. Players will actually do that now, they’ll ask each other “what were you thinking when this happened” and actually get an answer. That just wasn’t what it was like long ago. I joked earlier on stream that in the old days at the arcade, you would ask someone “why did you do that?” and you’d get “I dunno, I just felt like it”. So it’s changed a lot.

A lot of people like to talk about that old arcade feeling where everything was hardcore and everyone was mean or “evil”. It’s a little exaggerated these days, but there is still a lot of truth to it. The arcade culture was very different than how it is with the online scene.

Plus, the other thing that I think has changed is the amount of the information that can be spread through YouTube, Facebook, and community sites. Training videos and articles, the dissemination of information. The tools that help people learn have advanced so much now that the way we play fighting games is totally different than the way it used to be.

PL: In what ways do you think Capcom has made great strides in the recent years, and in what ways do you feel they could stand to improve?

DPG: This tournament series is a pretty big step in the right direction. From my perspective as someone in the fighting game community who wants to see Capcom support us more, I’m happy that they seem to be doing that. Putting out Arcade Edition v. 2012 to cover up an obviously imbalanced game solely because the tournament scene couldn’t take the original Arcade Edition seriously as a competitive game. Spending the time to release changes because of FGC feedback shows that they’re paying attention to us.

Those are both good signs. In the past they would release games, maybe throw a launch tournament for it; that was it, with no continued support. Now they’re trying to reach out to us and that’s a big thing, it creates brand loyalty when fans that support the game feel that they are being supported in kind. It’s a sign that they’re looking into making stronger, tournament-worthy games.

JC: This 25th anniversary is a great indication of the strides that they’ve made; they’re definitely trying to get more involved with the community. They hired Ryan “Fubarduck” Harvey to run the Austin tournament and Eric “Big E” Small, a tournament organizer with years of experience to run the northeast qualifier. Getting IPlayWinner and TeamSpooky to stream it and getting myself and David to run commentary, it’s nice to see them getting involved and reach out to the community. For the longest time, it felt like the community has been doing everything and now it feels like Capcom is trying their best to promote it as well.

To improve it, they just need to get involved more. You look at a company like Riot and how much they’ve put into League of Legends. They made a conscious choice to say “we see what Starcraft 2 is doing and how Blizzard is directly supporting its fans. We need to do everything we can to get League to that same level of community interaction”. Having the company that made the game directly support it pays off, League of Legends is easily the biggest game out there right now. Starcraft 2 does well because Blizzard’s directly involved with the players. If Capcom can get to that point where they don’t see the tournament scene as a secondary priority, but rather as the focus of their support, the sky’s the limit.

[EG] Puerto Rican Balrog squaring off with New York’s own Chris Hu 

VF: Capcom really stepped up with this tournament; putting up five hundred thousand dollars in cash and prizes, that’s pretty amazing. It’s nice to see them directly give back to the competitive scene that pushed their games in the first place. Also, they’ve made a huge effort to release new titles and updates for the games. The first SF4 Arcade Edition was very unpopular; everyone complained about Yun and Yang being overpowered. They took it all into account and released v. 2012, and since then SF4 has been a big deal again, everybody’s really enjoying it. It’s nice to see Capcom look closely at the feedback and making the effort.

As far as improvement, I think the loss of Seth has really hurt them. I wouldn’t pretend that I know who could do his job, but they really need to find some way to carry on his effort. The loss of Seth has created this disconnect between the company and the community, and they need to find a new golden child to reestablish that connection.

RG: This 25th anniversary tournament series is definitely huge, because they have events all over the world with big cash prizes and the scion car for the winner for SF x Tekken. More importantly, who they brought on to run the tournaments is a big deal as well. Matt [Dahlgren, Senior Product Manager At Capcom] bringing on Big E, who has years of experience running NEC and Winter Brawl, in an administrative fashion, having TeamSpooky and iPlayWinner run the stream and UltraChen do commentary – Capcom kind of decided “why reinvent the wheel? Why not have the people who are already doing a great job work with us in an official capacity?”

As far as improvement, I think everything involved with Street Fighter x Tekken was executed poorly. The web content marketing that they did with Cross the Line was a poor choice, simply because there are so many content creators already involved with promoting games. Atlus recently released Persona 4 Arena and collaborated with Cross Counter, UltraChen and Levelup, who were already producing content, to help market the game. Capcom could have probably done something like that.

The DLC fiasco was a huge problem too. Capcom could have avoided that by not having the characters already on the disc. They said officially that it was to provide a smoother user experience so that time and money wasn’t wasted downloading a gigabyte of DLC. But when you really think about it , if you know anything about digital distribution, you know that bandwidth is pretty cheap, to the tune of 7 cents a gigabyte. If each of your downloads were 2 gigabytes, it would still only be 14 cents per download. At the cost of twenty dollars per download, I think 14 cents of those 20 dollars could have been allocated to server costs. Plus, when you take into account that everyone’s playing on broadband anyway, why would 2 gigs at the cost of 14 cents per download even be a factor?

Rare footage of someone actually landing a KO in SFxT 

Lastly, the entire gem thing could have been – people didn’t want the gems, the gems were just kind of forced onto us with no way to turn them off. The funny thing is I was actually a big proponent of gems, and I still think they’re amazing; I think it’s a great idea, but even with Capcom allowing and encouraging gems in this official tournament, no one used them.

It’s really unfortunate because of the criticism the game gets about being boring and ending in time outs more often than not. Well guys, news flash, if you’re using gems to increase your offensive damage and grant yourself extra meter off of certain situations and setups, the match would probably go a lot quicker. But no one wants to budge on it, so everyone’s kind of playing this handicapped game, then getting upset because it’s not exciting. That’s not necessarily Capcom’s fault, but there are a number of ways that the situation could have been handled.

The other problem is that by enforcing the gem system, you have all these tournament organizers who don’t have access to multiple sets of DLC gems without paying for them. A very simple solution to that is creating an application system for tournament organizers to obtain DLC codes for gems.

The FGC is pretty tightly knit, there are no strangers in this community. In fact, we have representatives from Capcom who are on a first name basis with most of the community. Any tournament that is going to be worth going to will be well advertised and no one’s going to get one over on Capcom by trying to get DLC codes for individual use. Capcom’s motto is obviously not “let’s sell DLC to tournament organizers”, so why not create a system that promotes that method of play? It’s nothing that they likely didn’t do with reviewers anyway, and despite the game doing well in reviews, that did nothing for the game and it flopped anyway.

PL: There was a huge lull in the fighting game community in the mid to late 2000’s, what do you feel has caused such a significant revival?”

DPG: If I had to put them in order I would say number one was Seth Killian and number two was Street Fighter 4. Thanks to Seth, Street Fighter 4 was good. Thanks to him, in significant part, that game was made in the first place. Those two things brought in so many new and returning faces. While some people didn’t play it because they stuck with Third Strike, Capcom vs Snk 2, or Marvel 2, for the most part the scene went with it.

Because of that, companies saw that 2D fighting games can be economically viable and have put out a ton of games since then. Street Fighter 4 started it off by showing that a developer can make money doing it, encouraging companies to make their own games with different styles and aesthetics. By attracting more players that may have never thought to play a fighting game before, these games have been making money. The only exception as far as I know is SF x Tekken, but that failed for its own reasons that had nothing to do with the scene itself.

VF: Yeah the late 2000’s were pretty bad. I think Evo 2007 featured Mario Kart or something; that shows you how bad things were at the time. They had Mario Kart because nothing was happening in the fighting game genre. Then you had that whole thing with Steve H vs Justin Wong in Capcom vs SNK 2, where one tournament match went on for like an hour; people were just getting tired of it all.

I don’t think that was the fault of anyone in the community because the community was still supporting the games. The release of Street Fighter 4 ushered in a new era, there are still people who are great at Third Strike, we had a great Third Strike event here this weekend, but now we have so many games. People are playing SFMarvel and even SFxT to a lesser extent, although it’s been unpopular. Persona 4 Arena just came out, and KOF was incredibly hype at Evo. All of these games drawing in new players has really helped out.

RG: Street Fighter 4, for sure. After playing Third Strike all weekend and then stepping back to take a look at Street Fighter 4, I was yet again amazed by how great it looks. The release of Street Fighter 4 really sparked the revival and brought together a lot of players who didn’t exist in the same circles; players like myself who played Third Strike finally got a chance to play people like [Cross Counter Co-Host] Mike Ross, who was a Marvel player. That’s actually how we started hanging out and became friends, resulting in Cross Counter. If it weren’t for Street Fighter 4, we’d all still be playing in our own little circles, and the genre would have likely not have grown in the way it has.

JC: Street Fighter 4 brought back what was fun about fighting games to a lot of people. The fact that Street Fighter 4 was a simple enough game that a lot of people could come back and play it and not worry about “-isms” and “grooves”; no “Here’s a low jump, here’s a parry.” It was simple enough.

Then it brought back characters that we remember, that we love. The fact that it brought back iconic characters like Zangief, Guile, and Blanka… When you bring up Street Fighter 2, everyone remembers the first character they played with. There was just a 25th anniversary art exhibit; you had all these people who had fallen in love with these characters expressing it through their art work. The original cast of the game is just so iconic, and it brought a lot of people back into the scene.

So the game brought back the players, and then the streaming technology allowed us to give the players to the public, which has in turn caused the scene to explode. Now we have our heroes; players that we love. It has caused the scene to grow in a way that I think is fantastic.

The crowd gathers to watch as (tournament champion) [EMP] Dieminion faces off with [EG] Justin Wong. 

PL: Because of the streaming and the growth of the medium, the community has expanded significantly. People who have never picked up a fight stick come to these events to watch and cheer. My wife came to this event and picked out notable players and personalities despite not playing fighting games. With all of this growth, what do you feel is the next stage in media progression for the fighting game community?

DPG: I expect things are going to get a little bit bigger. I’m not looking to get a routine 100,000 viewership, even the bigger events aside from evo and a few select nationals don’t really do that. I expect that it will remain relatively niche, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t growing and it won’t continue to grow; I think it has significant viewership growth ahead of it.

There’s this relatively new strain of people who are into fighting games that are mostly spectators, and I expect that will continue. The most important thing to me is if those spectators then pick up a game themselves. As far as the media itself, it’s not terribly lucrative stuff. But it’s fun, and the people who do it – our number one concern is that we are doing things for the community. We’re not trying to and we definitely can not make ridiculous money off of this.

I don’t think it’ll get to anything like League of Legends level; they tend to hit a couple hundred thousand on streams not too infrequently. We’ve never seen anything like that, but that’s fine. To continue to have the growth that we have had, it’s really a matter of seeing the progression. When we started with Wednesday Night Fights, I remember when we thought that getting a thousand viewers was amazing. Now, if we get below 5000 in a week, we start to ask what went wrong. That’s still huge percentage of growth in a few years, and I’m really happy with that.

RG: You know what you don’t see a whole lot of? Wrap up videos and highlight reels of big events. Take this tournament for example; it’s a two-day event. And yeah, you could sit at home all day and watch every second of the event all weekend, but really, who’s sitting there on their weekend off and watching everything?

I feel that there are a lot of people who only watch about an hour, max, over the weekend. In my mind, what could be greatly improved in terms of media production would be wrap up videos, some way to watch the highlights of a tournament in a five-minute video. “Here are the top 10 moments of the Capcom anniversary tournament”.

It’s difficult; it’s actually not the easiest thing to do. It’d require some sort of other entity that has all the video resources over the weekend, but acts in their own capacity. You couldn’t have IPlayWinner or TeamSpooky doing that because they’re obviously burned out from running the stream all weekend. If there were a separate group that had experience in content production that could do something like that and get paid by either the tournament organizers or some media outlet, that’d be a nice step.

VF:  In my opinion, the streaming technology needs to improve before we can progress. The programs that are in use, the cameras and even the CPUs we’re using – give the streaming community a couple of years and you’re likely going to see a huge  evolution in the quality of streams. The media producers and streamers that are out there have some great ideas and know what they’re doing, they’re just waiting for the technology to catch up to their vision so that they can do their job better.

JC: That sort of thing, reaching out to a wider audience, is the core goal that I’ve always had in the fighting game community. During the lull, whenever Evo would come out with DVDs, I would create the trailers. Over the course of a few years, my focus shifted from exhibiting gameplay to almost entirely focusing on the players, the crowd and the reactions. It really comes down to the players. The reason people get more involved is become fans of Justin Wong, Dieminion, Wolfkrone and Chris G. They become invested in and follow Yipes, Clockwork, and Combofiend. We’re drawn to them for their personalities as much as we are impressed by their skill.

I compare the fighting game community to poker a lot. When poker got big, its because they said “Okay look. Here’s Daniel Negreanu, here’s Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey.” They showed all these people, showed us their backgrounds, they history and their stories. As much as people don’t like to admit it, human drama is what we’re all drawn to.

The beautiful part of it is that it doesn’t matter what game is being played. If Justin Wong started playing Persona 4 Arena, we’d care about him the same as when he’s playing Street Fighter or Ultimate Marvel, because we know Justin Wong. I don’t want to call the games irrelevant, but it really comes down to the people. That’s why David and I tend to give people some background information on players when they come up on stream. Obviously we need to make strides in the media, but a lot of that will work itself out as long as we keep promoting the human element.

Photos Provided by Kyle Mercury.

Making the Best of My Video Game Addictions

I start a lot of articles with this, but I love gaming… Actually, let me elaborate, I love gaming as an abstract idea; the culture, the mechanics, the events, and the evolution of the medium. I am enamored by the events, the people in the industry, and the sentimental connection that growing up as a gamer gave me. I adore the trailers, the articles, and the tournaments. All of it adds up to a fulfilling experience that enriches my life on a daily basis.

Admittedly, I’m ambivalent to actually playing a game. Picking up a controller and trying to playat the skill level that I feel is acceptable can be trying.

I am the type accidentally attains a zen-like state, where one flawlessly completes a stage or challenge, and get frustrated if I can’t recreate it every time. When it comes to actually playing a game, my interest wanes easily; I’d rather not get angry at the developer’s poor design choice, br frustrated by my own incompetence, or a combination of both.

In my younger days, my gaming habits were far more one-track minded. I would play one title for years on end to the exclusion of everything else. That wasn’t hyperboleI played Phantasy Star Online, Ragnarok Online, Final Fantasy XI: Online, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl for a collective eleven years I ignored my friends (what few I had), my family (again, what little I had), and my schooling. I’m not proud of any of that.

“I don’t have time for class, I’m busy learning.”


Over time, all those things made their way back into my daily life. There’s the misconception that people with an addiction are too detached from reality to realize it. That they don’t know what they’re giving up by being so engrossed. Granted, there are people who fit that bill, but I would say that it’s far less often the case than the media would like people to believe.

Overcoming my videogame addiction was harder than getting past my other habits. The compulsion to play and engross myself in the gaming culture was different than the physiological effects that alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs had. Even though I experimented with all of them, I never found myself hurting for a smoke or a drink as often as I’d shirk my real life responsibilities for a game—to learn a special combo, to reach the next level, or whatever.

“I can quit at any time, I just don’t want to.”


It wasn’t as simple as replacing a chemical until my body could deal without it. Mental aspects of video gaming apply to our inherent desire to grow and learn. They speak to me in a way that a beer never could. It wasn’t enough to just eke my way through a game—I wanted to master everything that I touched.

Playing FFXI casually wasn’t enough; I wanted to be the best Dark Knight to grace Vana’diel. Then I wanted to be the best Warrior, the best Paladin. I wanted to be one of the best players, period. Similarly, mediocrity in Smash wouldn’t do; I would get angry if I wasn’t on my way to being the best Ike in the country. All of my frustration stemmed from one idea: that the only thing keeping me from being the very best was my own inability to learn and adjust.

“I don’t have a degree, but I have an Aegis… why are you laughing?”


Video games can be teaching tools. Encouraging learning and participation is the backbone of good video game design, and that inspires us to improve when we play them. As we figure out how to move faster, get epic drops, or unlock hidden areas, we’re learning in the context of the game’s world. We’ve been engaged by having an active hand in the learning experience.
When one plays a game, it’s not the passive sponging of knowledge that one would experience by picking up a book. Every mistake has a consequence; every smart choice has a reward. It was that aspect that caused me to sit in my room for ungodly amounts of time, playing games with people that my mother dubbed “fake friends.”

Luckily for me, those friends weren’t fake. They represented another facet of gaming; the social aspect. It drew me to online gaming, and gave me the contacts that I needed to get back on my feetafter years of neglect resulted in me losing my apartment. Those very same game-loving friends led me to writing for DualShockers.

I view the hard times as a learning experience, and use it to find some good. I regained my academic focus, finally decided what to do with my life, and most importantly, I gained the drive to follow through. Now, I’m working with a group of independent developers on a mobile game project, and I am enrolled for a Bachelor’s in Game Design. It may not be the century’s greatest tale, but there are hopefully many more chapters to be written in my story.

In retrospect, I’d still rather be homeless than have to replay the Water Temple.


I’m A Grown-Ass Man, Dawg.

As a gamer in my mid-twenties, I personally identify with video gaming, as the dawn of the popularized console era directly coincides with the year I was born. I was fortunate enough to be given an NES as a first birthday present, following up over and over with the Sega Genesis, N64, Dreamcast, Gamecube, and the big three of this console generation. I was afforded the luxury of owning a Gameboy, was mugged for my Gameboy color, and witnessed handheld gaming find its way into everyone’s personal lives by annexing cell phones as a way to experience the medium. I would say that it has been a great privilege to grow up with gaming and watch it grow from a niche hobby for nerds to something that I can state with confidence that nearly everyone in my age group does.

The point, however, is that I grew up.  Make no  mistake, I am twenty-six years old, and if it isn’t clear, I’m establishing that that means that I am a grown-ass man. Before someone attempts to argue what makes a man or how age is not indicative of maturity, I’m going to ask that you politely shut your noise hole and take a moment to listen. I am not attempting to raise a discourse regarding a subjective sense of cultivation, I’m speaking purely about post-pubescent biology. If you are anywhere within the vicinity of my age, you’re an adult. That doesn’t mean you should become pretentious, forsake any and all “juvenile hobbies” and only discuss pressing adult matters such as fiscal diversity and struggling with incontinence; it just means that you likely have a little more to consider in life than making it through six periods of class only to run home to play Modern Warfare and masturbate to anime.

I’ve long since gotten past being haunted by being called a nerd; I proudly wear that fact on my sleeve (or literally on my head, as I own about fifty comic book or video game related baseball caps).  With gaming attaining mainstream acceptance, we’ve reached a point where a whole new insult is prevalent. I’m not easily offended, but the concept that my hobbies are in any way, shape or form juvenile just by the virtue of what they are is something I take great exception to. The idea that taking a great interest in gaming, animation, or comics is the same as subscribing oneself to a classic case of arrested development is ridiculous. What bothers me more is that I can see where that stereotype comes from because I’ve been a part of the problem for nearly all of my adult life.

While accepting that there are exceptions to every blanket statement, the gaming community tries to play it both ways. It wants to be taken seriously as a group of discerning individuals who just happen to engage in a certain activity, but will conveniently allow itself to hide behind not wanting to be taken seriously when scrutinized as any other group might be. When our hobby is insulted in any way, we ignore discourse and dive right into back and forth shouting that would make an episode of Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia look tame and reasonable by comparison. We completely ignore arguing the point and jump straight to ad-hominem. To say that that type of behavior is absolute bullshit would be a gloriously generous euphemism. It reeks of the type of false equality where one demands respect on par with others, but does not want to suffer the same hardships and standards as those others might. It doesn’t hold up in principle or even logically.

Before someone argues that there’s a time and a place for everything, I’m fully willing to admit that. I already stated that I don’t think gamers should decide to become stuffed shirts just because they reached an arbitrary age. I get that there are times to laugh, shout, carry on, talk shit, curse, and get hyped. I would never take that away from gaming culture in the slightest. The problem is that while I am willing to admit that there is a time and a place for everything, some players regularly forget that. More importantly, they disregard if and when there is a line that should not be crossed. Talking shit doesn’t mean spouting racial, ethnic, gender and sexuality based slurs. Carrying on doesn’t include destroying property and stealing from others at gaming events. As a rule of thumb, if one’s antics result in the cops becoming involved, he or she likely went too far. To poorly defend the words and actions of people who need to grow the fuck up as being a fundamental part of gaming culture is not only false, but doing a great disservice to that very gaming culture that people claim to love so much. If you don’t like the media saying you react like children, it’s probably in one’s best interest to not react to that like a child.

Again, there are exceptions to every blanket statement. I guess the reason that type of behavior bothers me is because I know we’re better than that. We’ve proven time and time again that we can be better than that, but then we throw it aside at the most inopportune of times. I’ve had gamers show up to fix my computer or even offer upgrade parts because I wouldn’t be able to play a game without it. I’ve had guildmates and smash players I didn’t even get along with literally shelter me from five blizzards during the winter of 2009 when I was wandering homeless due to video game addiction. I’ve met great people who, while they identify with gaming, don’t let the stereotype give them carte blanche to act like anything less than upstanding human beings.

Over the Easter weekend I was fortunate enough to be one of the enforcers at PAX East. When I asked what to say to people who may get carried away, the response was to just say “don’t be a dick.” And you know what? It worked. Over the course of three days, I got to see the side of gaming that I’ve come to love so much on an almost dauntingly large scale. I conversed and played with thousands of people and not once did it occur to anyone that I came across to act like anything but a decent human being. Players were courteous, welcoming, and helpful. I didn’t find it surprising, but I was glad to see that I wasn’t surprised. One patron returned a box that had been dropped, filled with 300 months of Xbox live cards. Say what you want, but $1500 is not exactly something you see people voluntarily give up.

I love gaming culture, I love being a part of it, but if we want to attain the widespread legitimacy that we desire as a medium and a community, we need to remember that behind our controllers, behind our screen names, behind our one frame links and phat lewtz, that we are a culture of decent people. We are capable of more as a collective group than the outsiders would like to believe, and a large part of me wonders why it takes charity drives and extraordinary measures for us to show that. We are capable of being the type of people that know how to act as the situation calls for, rather than hiding behind our hobby as a way to absolve ourselves from acting our age.

All of that said, if anyone ever tells me that playing video games means that I didn’t grow up, I’m still going to tell them to eat a dick, because that’s adult language, and I’m a grown-ass man.

E-Sports, the Fighting Game Community, and Evolution (No, not that one…)

By Paul LaCen

In the wake of Major League Gaming’s partnership with the Korean E-Sports Association, I am speaking with Isaiah-Triforce Johnson.

PL: Now I know that the fighting game community has plenty of choice words with regard to the subject of E-sports, and are far from shy when it comes to sharing said words. Do you think that will be continued head-butting when it comes to the subject of fighting game competition, or do you feel that there will be some sort of amicable cooperation for the greater good of the FGCs perceived legitimacy?


ITJ: In my opinion, the FGC, they dont understand what E-sports is about. I use the term FGC loosely, I dont wish to make a blanket statement because there are a number of independent players that understand that they play video games professionally. The word here is professional, they play the games as a job. It may be a fun job, but a job nonetheless. Theres a tear in the community, some people are for it, some people are adamantly opposed to the idea; some people dont care as long as it helps the community. I feel that E-sports is the future, and there is nothing the detractors in the FGC can do to stop it from integrating into the community as a whole. Its just a natural progression, just the course it takes.

"It has happened to every sport; Baseball, Football, Hockey, Chess, even Hand-to-Hand combat. The list goes on. When competition of this nature gets to a certain level, it automatically evolves, whether or not the people accept it is the only real variable. Fighting games have reached that point now. The different personalities, the dynamics that come with the personalities, the accessories/companies/business that make money off of this all point to it being an inevitability. The last bastion is the players, who unfortunately for the most part dont understand the development of the business.

They dont have any input on the business end, and Im glad they dont, because they dont understand business. There are good times in the future, and its in the best interest of the FGC to accept it and develop with it as a community, an industry, and a business. Its for the better.

Theyre just against it due to fear. Either theyre unfamiliar with E-sports past or had one bad relationship experience, and are jumping to the conclusion that any interaction in the future will produce the same result. Theres also the fact that they feel that E-sports will kill their means of expression. E-sports requires a level of professionalism, the FGC is very free spirited. They want to say and do what they want and not be penalized or policed. But its not the content that would be enforced, its the context in which the content is expressed. Some of the people in the community are just very vulgar, disingenuous—look up every negative form of expression in the thesaurus and it would apply to how the FGC expresses itself at times. Slurs against race, gender, sexuality, religion, even politics for the ones that care enough to follow it. Stream monsters are ugly, they butcher peoples reputations and ruin good things at times for sheer laughs. E-sports threatens that, and Im glad that it does.

PL: You mentioned expression, and context. I don’t mean to talk an issue into the ground, but would you say that the semi-recent fiasco with Aris is a prime example of the issue of professionalism?

ITJ: We have to go back to the structure that lead to this foolish incident. From a business perspective, I dont blame Aris for the way the incident played out. He knows what type of person he is and what he was going to do. Its one thing for him to know, but its another for Capcom to know and to put him in the position to do the damage that he did.”

"The people selected did not match the credentials or criteria for selection. Aris I dont understand how Capcom would hire or select him to represent any part of that show when less than a year ago, he made a harassing comment to an actual professional at a national tournament. He got kicked out, everyone knew about it, it was placed on SRK. Then he shot off at the mouth at EVO.”

"So there were at least two events that everyone knew about, and Capcom selected him as a coach anyway. Bronson or any number of people could have been the Tekken representative; there are a number of Tekken players that didnt remotely have the history that Aris did. Capcom handled all of it poorly, Im surprised that it didnt end up worse than it did. Plus it was streamed, where monsters can interact, which places Capcom in even more of a compromised position.”

"When Empire streams, we place view discretion and place it at 1AM where no one young should be watching. If Nintendo asked me to stream something, I would make sure I would screen every single applicant, if anything negative comes up, I would put the Kibosh on it. That may come off as strict, but theres no way I would place someone like that as the face of the company, even unofficially.”

"It was bad enough that Capcom failed at screening. When Aris spoke, they could have responded and shown that they wouldnt tolerate that type of behavior, but they didnt. Then at the end, they released a half-assed statement to indemnify themselves so he would take the brunt of it. But they allowed it, it was a completely bad move, from the beginning to the end. Terrible decisions at every level; nothing they can say to soften the blow. People may ask Why are you bashing Capcom? but Im not, its just calling a spade a spade. It was just poor decision making from beginning to end. Im not going to dwell on it, I dont hold grudges, we will all move on, but it was a notable bad spot in gaming and Capcom history. Three bad decisions, Im glad we moved on from it.”

PL: Will MLG name their own fighting division or will it just be an untitled subdivision of the greater MLG brand?


ITJ: “I doubt Im not too sure what they will do with naming the division, but with my experience with MLG, it will be a greater part of the umbrella as a whole. Games come and go, based on popularity and sponsorship. King of Fighters XIII isnt doing as well as they thought it would do, I see it being dropped for Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Dead or Alive 5, which I feel is the game to go after. The technology, the graphics, the community it caters to Dead or Alive attracts girls, there are a lot of girls that play DoA and are proficient at it. The Tekken demographic is very linear, it shares its aim with Capcom, and is unfortunately associated with Aris. Even if people want to say it isnt, anyone familiar with the competitive community in Tekken knows who he is, and now plenty of people who are just getting into it know who he is for unfortunate reasons as well. MLG may not want to risk associating him or the perception of a barbaric community with the MLG brand. If they pick up DoA and the girls get involved, it will really pick up steam like nobodys business.”

PL: What is going to happen when E-sports finally takes over, how will people adjust?

ITJ: “Once everyone understands how E-sports can bolster the community and the already thriving video game industry, it will be something like we have never seen before. Competitive gaming has the potential to make more money than all of the sports leagues combined. They fill virtual seats, and competitors come from every part of the world, they dont need to go through the NCAA and then be picked up. Anyone with the skill and the drive can compete, regardless of background. Its open to the world. When you take into account that each individual that is going to compete has their own fan base, each player is more individual viewers watching and backing their local video game hero.”

"The metrics for this is astonishing, I understand why MLG keeps getting bigger and bigger. CBS interactive signed a partnership with MLG and twitch.tv. Even without full details, we can still speculate that CBS wants to make sure they are in at the head of this booming business. Developers will start tailoring their products for E-sports purely because a competitive community gives games infinite replay value. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 lasted 10 years just due to the competitive community. With MVC3, the community quadrupled.”

"Warners throwing their money in as well, backing CEO, UFGT and East Coast Throwdown by adding thousand dollar pots to the competitions, and twenty grand for EVO winners. E-sports have their guns ready, anyone who gets in the way is going to get run over.”

Shoutouts to Adam and Sundance, I knew these guys when they were working out of the garage. They worked for 10 years to get to the point they are at today, and you have to admire the drive and the dedication

Thank you to Isaiah-Triforce Johnson for taking the time to speak with me and share his views and ideas. He can be found on Twitter @EMP_Triforce_GM. 

Paul LaCen is a student, freelance writer and video game designer from Sunset Park in Brooklyn, NY. He can be found on Twitter @Rykoshet.