Marvel Vs Capcom Vs MMOs.

February 28, 2011

This is related to the last post about Rift and twilight.

In the local mall, there’s a small local arcade surviving heroically. Like all arcades, it’s more redemption and ticket machines than actual games, with only a few of them left. It’s mostly racing games and light gun games, but with one exception. They have a Marvel versus Capcom 2 machine there.

This is welcome to me as I played the same game in the same mall over fifteen years ago, and it adds some continuity to life. These days so much of what existed when we were young has been thrown away, either due to innovation or simple time. In my town, my high school doesn’t exist any more, the employer I worked at for 7 years doesn’t, the movie theaters where I first watched movies are gone, as are all the video and book stores I lived in as a kid. However, there is a problem.

There’s really zero quantatative difference between MvC2 then, and any Capcom versus game now besides the graphics.

If anything, MvC2 is the better game because it strikes a balance between complexity and simplicity. This is not good at all.

It means the series has been stagnant, and it really has. It’s not just MvC: play Soul Calibur on dreamcast, or Tekken 2, and you see all the later iterations just get more complex and never really change. Playing King in Tekken barely has changed at all over time. We are seeing fifteen years or more of games, a lifetime according to Moore’s law, do¬† little to advance themselves. Even niche titles: Gulity Gear on playstation one is basically the same game as later models except for arcane tweaks to the ruleset.

This is bad, because it killed the genre. Virtually all fighting games cash in on multi-decade existing licenses. Capcom used to innovate in fighting games with spinoffs: Techromancer, Cyberbots, Rival Schools: United by Fate. While others relied on past technologies, they tried to make a new experience. Primal Rage and Brutal are two examples, as was Eternal Champions and Bushido Blade. But innovation has been thrown off a cliff in favor of updated retreads.

The problem with MMOs specifically is that we are now at the MvC2 point. We had an early time of a lot of innovations, but like all the fighting games of the MK/SF 2 generation, they have moved to incremental advancement. Why would anyone in God’s name go back to playing by classic EQ rules? It would be like going back to play a 8-bit strategy game. It should feel so shallow as not to be worth except as a curiosity.

If we can in 20 years, look back and still find past MMOs anything but shallow, linear experiences heavily colored by nostalgia, and not be able to point to the current genre as adding entirely new experiences and concepts, the genre has failed. Burnout is not the same as pole position. But will Everquest 4 be the same as Everquest one?


Twilight of the next big thing.

February 27, 2011

Note to self: don’t try to do a challenge when both games you play go through some pretty large changes. More on this later. But first, a little rant.

Twilight. Everyone hates it. It’s fashionable to. They have a point to do so: as a YA novel it’s pretty badly written, and it’s view on relationships is awkward if not harmful. Of course, the whole genre hasn’t been so good on it: as anyone who has ever read Christopher Paolini, Paul Zindel or Robert Cormier would find out. But lets skip that for now.

The people who hate it have some valid arguments about how its massive sales to a large part of the market affect the YA genre. They don’t go far enough with them, usually out of some sense of political correctness: having what is essentially a sanitized version of Anita Blake Vampire Hunter right down to the heroine/vampire/werewolf dynamic isn’t conducive to getting male readers to drop their xbox360 and start to read. Nor is it getting those teen women a healthy understanding of relationships or guys. I could go on with the specific critique, but that’s a tangent to the main point.

Now here it is. After Twilight is finished, there’s a huge lull in the YA book market. People grumble, but go back to reading their worn copies of Eragon or the hunger games, but nothing really draws the level of attention it does. Quite a few Twilight haters are actually rereading the Twilight series again, either to pick flaws in it, or because their friends keep reading it, and they don’t want to give them up over a book. Or to make snarky parodies or fan fiction. But still, whenever it’s mentioned in public, its either met with contempt or at best benign indifferrence.

Now, fast forwards. A new author suddenly releases a book, Mourning. Maybe its Tamora Pierce, or maybe it’s some unknown author. It’s blantatly obvious that it’s a tremendous rip-off of Twilight, with some added parts from other books thrown in to it. You still have your desired female main character, you have your main character being a brooding mysterious immortal, and you have a rival also being a supernatural creature. Maybe it puts it into a post-apocalyptic dystopia, ripping the Hunger Games off. Or maybe it puts it in modern day, but with Greek gods instead of vampires. The borrowing is done well, but that doesn’t really hide the fact you’ve seen the same thing in other books.

You can argue that all books do this, and you have a point. But it’s not all that creative. The writing is very good, but the themes have no real spin to them. There’s nothing to it that knocks peoples socks off: while it’s well crafted, it’s almost like a pseudo-sequel or remake. The minor innovations get swallowed up in the sea of familliarity.

And the themes still are bad in the same way Twilight was. They do not make any commentary on them or twist them. They may make it easier to digest, and not challenge your intelligence or sensation of disbelief as badly. Vampire Baseball and Imprinting are gone, but the main character is still a clingy Mary Sue pursued by a stalkerish male, and is just as uncomfortable if you think about it. Maybe the book’s magic system works well, or they had a bit better historical detail, but one could argue that it’s just a sugar pill to reinforce the same, tired message of Twilight down.

Now here’s the thing. You’d expect the haters of Twilight to tear this apart, right?

No, they bloody LOVE it.

It might be because they were so disappointed in the last novel, a popular one by the Japanese author of Kamikaze girls. It released but was so badly translated and printed the publisher had to stop printing it. Or maybe the long wait for the rumored J.K. Rowling YA book is making them antsy. My God, they love that book, one based on the success of the author in other intellectual properties. Or there’s that big Neil Gaiman sequel to Starlight coming out, which everyone has been dying to read despite not so many people actually being keen on it when it first came out, and the buzz really only came because they chose to release it for 5 bucks at walmart on dvd.

In any case, rather than call it a cynical cash grab that relies on people’s familiarity of a popular best seller with some minor alterations taken from other books, they flock to it like birds. It’s praised for its “polish” and “craftsmanship” and while people really aren’t all that excited about it for it, they still flood the bookstores and wait 4 hours in line to scoop up a copy. Stephanie Meyer reacts by releasing a limited edition, free novella about Edward and Bella in the past, but even that doesn’t stop the juggernaut. People harshly against the whole genre lap it up. Yet the problems still remain, and are even worse.

Mourning shows that people are full of shit. People who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a team Edward shirt and have made many serious and well-argued points against Twilight toss them aside. It’s the same tired story: nothing in the book leads us to believe the ending will be different or surprising, and you don’t expect the book to grow. It might be innovative in its borrowings, dressing them up neatly, but in the end people have the suspicion that it will be something they will not plan to read or like long term. Some people openly state it is a placeholder book till the other two big titles come out, and the Twilight haters nod reassuringly. Meanwhile the few people not keen on it look in a state of disbelief as they watch an entire edifice built around critiquing the flaws of the largest current best-selling novel be left rusting in the wind as people chase after its spiritual twin. Even a notororious critic is dropping his fierce opposition to Twilight because they threw in a reference to Tarantino films, which he loves.

Weird times, eh?

You probably get the analogy by now. But the next time you slam Twilight, or criticize the whole YA genre for being stale and uncreative, remember you spent money on Mourning.