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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

SAAM ARCADE 2017

SAAM ARCADE 2017
Third time’s the charm


Oh folks, you did not think I would miss this year’s Indie Arcade did you?  


Washington D.C.’s beloved annual event changed its name, but the newly dubbed SAAM Arcade has lost none of its splendor, variety, or friendly environment. Its namesake gives thanks to its host: the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This year’s delights included three floors of hands-on entertainment including: workshops, musical performances, live eSports events, Pinball tournaments, classic arcade cabinets, and of course, independent (indie) games from professional and student developers. I would argue that this was the most ambitious year yet for the sponsors and coordinators.


For those not in the know, the SAAM Arcade originally launched in 2014 as Indie Arcade: Indies from the Middle.. It provided a platform for professional indie and student developers to showcase their projects for exposure to a wide audience. The event expanded from humble beginnings to full fanfare with over 11,700 attendees (1) during 2016. This year’s local sponsors are: the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), American University’s Game Lab, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), MAGfest, Art Lab +, and the Washington D.C. Chapter of the International Game Developer’s Association.

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Three floors of pure bliss

Main Floor, Main Course: the Indies


Amidst the plethora of indie games, I had the opportunity to get my hands on two special titles: Mystic Melee and Burly Men at Sea. Both games display how diverse gameplay has become in the independent scene.


Serenity Forge and Mystic Melee
Thursday afternoon last week, I pinned a Twitter post letting developers know I would attend SAAM Arcade and would love to talk with them. Imagine my appreciative honor to hear from Zhenghua Yang (Z) (@ZhenghuaYang), founder and CEO of developer Serenity Forge! Serenity Forge is the company behind the King’s Bird-- which you may remember from Indie Megabooth next door to E3 this year-- Yang is an IGDA Colorado Chapter member and said he would love to discuss their latest IP, Mystic Melee. For those of you that missed it at EVO 2017 (2), SAAM Arcade was a chance to check it out before the official release.




At first glance, Mystic already had my heart with its vibrant pixel art and crisp platforming execution. The trailer displays a side-scrolling adventure style with skills relating to your wizard of choice. I wanted to know: a) How did I miss this gem? B) Does it feel as good as it looks? I still cannot answer A, but B is a resounding “YES!”


The game mode on display was a deathmatch melee combat akin to entries in the Super Smash Bros. series, but with better character control and platforming ability. At the character select screen, players have an opportunity to test their character’s move inputs while waiting for other opponents to submit their final selections.
Each character can utilize a basic attack, spells, and single jumps with the option to double jump. I did discover a technique similar to the Smash Bros. “wave dash” via a shoulder button/trigger during my matches. Yours truly jumped into a match as Amaya,, or Team 2, in the screenshot above.


Everyone starts with 100% health that enemy attacks or environmental mishaps can whittle away to zero. Environmental hazards vary depending on the stage. Are there two giant turning platforms in the center of the stage? Land between those and you suffer a flattened instant death. Stroll on spinning saw blades one time too many if you are looking for an early defeat. Some stages offer, what appear to be environmental pickups that can be used as weapons once a character acquires them.  


See that little gap of doom? Some of us are about to discover what happens when you explore that…


Now, I am sure that some of you are still sore about my preference of Mystic over Smash, but what if I told you that you can wall jump to escape a potential fall death? Suddenly, an “Up B” pales in comparison. Winning a deathmatch in Mystic Melee requires more than luck and a strong hit; players must be aware of their surroundings at all times while understanding how to pull true potential from their platforming skills.


Outside of an Arena Mode, Yang points out that Mystic Melee has a dedicated Single Player campaign mode with 50 levels to explore and a plethora of magic spells to master in addition to another multiplayer mode that actually requires co-op in order to achieve certain goals. With shimmering polish, tight controls, and a developer that wants “...to work with a community of players to get feedback...and add requested content...” (3) players worldwide have plenty to look forward to on August 22, 2017 when it releases on Steam.


Burly Men at Sea and the Geeky Gamer Girl

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I was pretty much on cloud nine after my Serenity Forge experience, but behold! Yang’s table neighbor was the “Geeky Gamer Girl” Mattie Diem. Diem (@CatPewPew) is a Colorado-based journalist and a wealth of knowledge if you are looking to get your feet wet in the gaming department of journalism.


She explained that she decided to write reviews covering indie games because these nuggets of blood, sweat, and tears deserve more exposure and recognition than they tend to receive. I absolutely agree! Triple A developers and publishers have the currency to promote their projects heavy, but most indie developers have to put the majority of their funds into the project development itself and network with fellow indies (see: Devolver Digital & Indie Megabooth).


Diem and I discussed Wordpress versus Blogger, SEO woes, and the struggle to monetize our life passion. As I sat there attempting to soak up wisdom like the driest sponge, SAAM Arcade attendees stopped at the table, intrigued by the propped up iPad with headphones attached. I had been so engulfed in our conversation that I almost overlooked the pastel and earth-colored delight lighting up the tablet’s display.


“This is something I would play mostly at home,” I heard one gentleman say. For some reason, his statement, though tactful, rubbed me the wrong way. It made me think of the old stance many gamers had ten to fifteen years ago. You know which one I am talking about:


Mobile games are not serious game experiences.


Yes, I know he did not say that, but the shadows of that dark era lingered in his tone. I knew I had to play Burly Men at Sea.


David and Brooke Condolora, founders of developer Brain & Brain, describes Burly Men at Sea as “a folktale adventure.” Players embark on a journey with three fishermen that stumble across a mysterious item. The controls are simple: tap the screen to interact with objects and people. Slide your finger along the screen to explore your surroundings. The entirety of your setting is not immediately clear-- like observing a locale through frost-edged binoculars-- and what you see is limited only by your scope of exploration. A tranquil instrumental track reverberates through the headphones and despite thousands of attendees swarming the museum, I felt absorbed into the game. Who are these fishermen? What is the mysterious item? Is the clank of the Blacksmith’s hammer a voiced over sound effect (oh my, it is!) ? I guided my three seamen (get your laugh out and keep reading damn it) from house to house in nonchalant fashion, playing with fire and picking the townsfolk’s brains as to what we have found.


I wanted to explore the world of Burly Men at Sea for a few moments more, but SAAM Arcade had more ground that needed covering and who am I to deny its charm? Brain & Brain’s enchanting tale is available now on PC/Mac, App Store, Google Play, Humble Store, and Itch.io and I cannot wait to reunite with the fishermen again. Thank you Mattie for looking after Burly. it was an absolute pleasure to chat with you.


3rd Floor: Past, Present, and Future
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SAAM managed to cram nostalgia, current games, and the future of eSports into one monstrous floor. As with any mmorpg, your adventure depended on the path chosen. The ascending F Street stairwell led to three flat screens displaying a live stream NBA battle between players with live commentary. Or, you could take your chances via the G Street stairwell and waltz into the enthralling pulse of Dance Dance Revolution: Extreme. Whatever, your fancy, there was a cabinet for every taste.


The Cabinets


The fighting game community was especially well represented here. Arcade on Tour brought their home arcade setups-- complete with fight sticks-- powering current gen titles such as Injustice 2, Street Fighter V, and Tekken 7. Stock fighter cabinets were nestled in various corners of the level like shining ores; Looking for the classics? Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and its predecessor Street Fighter II Turbo: Championship Edition stayed occupied as players relived their childhood or introduced it to newcomers. The latter title is a personal favorite and I relished the speedy fights and intense battles. A Tekken 5 (not Dark Resurrection) cabinet neighbored an original Virtua Fighter right around the corner from the Pinball hall of glory. Attendees could even duke it out on an official WWF Royale Rumble arcade! It was succulent pandemonium for the FGC.


Fighting games not your schtick? DDR: Extreme and Guitar Hero were available to groove along. The arcade edition of Bust a Move (Bubble Bobble JP) and table top Pac-Man fulfilled puzzle urges. Sports fans were not left behind with Windjammers, NFL Blitz,, and Big Buck Hunter. SAAM Arcade truly had something for everyone.


Art & Diversity


Indie Arcade is more than a free game event. It is a family-friendly showcase of art. If you are reading this, then pray-tell you understand the weight of that previous statement. Twenty years ago, the video game industry-- Stateside-- contended with the constant stigma that the medium we enjoy freely today, was nothing more than a violent influence on children and a waste of time. The industry fought for the acknowledgement that it is a form of art with plenty to offer the world if we are willing to open our eyes and share it. I grew up playing games with family members, but I know that gaming did not gain kind favor until recent years. Now, games can encourage us to pedal faster on indoor upright bikes! That is what makes SAAM Arcade so special; giving up and coming developers a stage to meld art worlds and share them with all ages.


Seriously, where the hell else are you going to see this:
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...busts and statuettes sharing the same space as NFL Blitz?


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...two youths discovering the original DDR:Extreme for the first time?


Before I departed the museum, a friend eve mentioned that there was a game on the main floor whose purpose it to help children learn how to use prosthetic limbs!


Day 1 of SAAM Arcade left me excited and ever-hopeful for the future of video game development, design, and audience. Thank you to the developers, sponsors, SAAM staff, and attendees for reflecting my love for this industry.


Until Later Guys,


Xaimi (^_^)


If you are looking for picture galleries and video, check back for updates!


Useful Sites and Contacts:


Previous Indie Arcade Coverage:


(1) http://www.lgrace.com/IndieArcade/
(2) https://twitter.com/benhhopkins/status/885964989940596736

(3) http://store.steampowered.com/app/454770/Mystic_Melee/

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Full Circle- TEKKEN 7 Review


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              Courtesy of Fighters Generation


By A’Gia Alston
Console Release Date: 6/2/2017 ( PS4, PS4 Pro, XBox One, Steam)
Availability: Digital, Hard-Copy
System: XBox One
Developer: Bandai Namco


2017 has been a jam-packed year for the Fight Game Community and we are only a week into the halfway point. Bandai Namco gave fans a succulent morsel last week with the console release of Tekken 7― barely a month before the annual Evolution Championship Series 2017. The latest installment in the Tekken series serves as “...the final chapter of the 20-year-long Mishima feud...” between Heihachi  Mishima and Kazuya Mishima. There are new editions to the character roster, story,  and signature gameplay style Tekken is known for. I had a chance to get my grubby little paws on this sure-to-be “Greatest Hit” so, let us dive in!

POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD
KEEP SCROLLING AND YOU HAVE SIGNED THE WAIVER

Mechanics

Most reviewers tend to discuss graphics first, but I prefer the main course to dessert and appetizers. A game can look great, but pleasing aesthetics are meaningless if gameplay mechanics are cumbersome and laggy.

If you are reading this, we can safely presume you have an interest in fighting games. Beginners and professionals know just how intimidating learning a fight game can be. "The Tao of Git Gud" specifically addresses how practicing repetitive inputs until said directives  are second nature is imperative to “getting good”  at your game of choice. Nothing hinders a fight game more than delayed inputs.

Boy oh boy do I have a few gripes with Tekken 7 about this exact issue.

Emelie “Lili” Rochefort is one of my favorite characters in the series. If I had to explicitly state who I tend to main, it would be her. Bandai Namco has kept most of the roster’s input commands the same for at least three installments. I have been playing Lili since her debut in Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, thus her move set is familiar to me. Tapping Up+LK+RK (Up, Left Kick button, Right Kick button simultaneously) in Dark Resurrection results in a front tuck somersault either onto an opponent’s head if they are close enough, our a low attack if the opponent is just within range. The same input applies in Tekken 6. I spent FOUR DAYS playing Tekken 7, inputting that command, and saw every move except that. On the fourth day, I swallowed my pride and hunted through the command list until I found the move.

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Courtesy of Fighters Generation

Guess what the input was? Up+LK+RK.
You can imagine my frustration. Unfortunately, this inconsistency applies to basic movements like side-stepping too. Double-tapping Up or Down usually yields a side step into the foreground or background. Well, in Tekken 7, you can tap Up or Down once for the same result― or at least that is what the command list and story tutorial would like for you to believe. Several times, an attempted side-step input made the character jump or left the character standing there doing nothing and open for a punish.

A fellow player, well-versed in the ways of Akuma, expressed frequent irritation as commands he knew by heart were not executed despite proper directional inputs.

Is this just a singular experience for XBox One players using a controller pad? I  do not know. A number of variables could be behind this:

-severe input delay in the software itself
-delayed input recognition by the hardware due to potentially low RAM
-faulty controllers or a controller with low battery
-signal between controller and the console is blocked

The culprit could be a combination of some of these or none at all. However,  thorough discussions with additional players on different console platforms mention a similar experience. Other members of the FGC mention that the PC release reacts with glorious response time. This leads me to infer that Tekken 7 has a noticeable input delay on XBox One and PS4. Whether or not developer and publisher Bandai Namco is aware of this and working on a patch has yet to be determined, but hopefully, we see a patch in the future to address the issue.

*UPDATE*: As of June 8, 2017, Patch 1.02 was released for PS4 to address online functionality  issues. A similar patch was announced last week for XBox One with a forecasted next week release, but the Tekken Team managed to get it out June 9th. The PC patch is still expected next week. You can review patch details here: http://eu.tekken.com/#!/en/news

If you can ignore the input delay, the game feels exciting to play while introducing fun mechanics in Story Mode; during one scene, the camera pans to a third-person over-the-shoulder view of Lars Alexanderson wielding an automatic weapon against Tekken Force troops. The player can continue shooting, choose to holster the gun for melee combat, and even draw it again in seamless fashion.


Story

The Tekken franchise is almost twenty-five years old. I was in first grade, Saturday Morning cartoons still existed, and Tomb Raider would be released on Sega Saturn, Playstation, and MS-DOS the following year. We have literally watched Heihachi gray and his skin wrinkle. A lot has happened to characters in the franchise and story inconsistencies led many fans to question which plotlines are canon? For the uninformed, Heihachi and his son, Kazuya, have been bloodthirsty rivals since the former threw his fledgling into a volcano.

Yes, I know this is dark. Just stay with me.

Kazuya survives, and vows to reap vengeance against his father. He only survives due to the Devil Gene: a trait that grants incalculable power once awakened. The story centers around these two until the third installment in the franchise, when we learn that Kazuya has a son named Jin Kazama. Nowhere does the saying “Like Father, Like Son,” apply more, as he too carries the gene, but lacks control over its manifestation. Thus, the later numbered sequels orbit these three characters’ bitter family ties and dominance jockeying.
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The latest installment claims to conclude the Mishima Saga explicitly.

The usual fighting game schtick is that each character has their own story where you play against particular computer opponents, tackle a final boss― think Azazel in Tekken 6― and unlock the character’s ending. Bandai Namco chose to drop this method, opting for a story implementation similar to Dead or Alive 5 and Injustice 2, while adding their own flair.

The Main Story mode covers the Mishima Saga via an unknown narrator. The narrator is a reporter with a vendetta against Jin and plenty of time to spare for detective work. His digging for clues and answers leads him to various encounters with characters from the Tekken 7 roster. Only these characters are playable in the Main Story mode as they push the plot forward. Players jump between CG cut scenes and actual fights fluidly. If a Jack-6 executed a swinging arm maneuver toward Heihachi during a CG shot, that attack still continues in your direction at the impending fight’s start. This keeps players on their toes and actually makes the cut-scenes worth watching. A player will be hesitant to skip the cut-scene if that is the only clue to the attack they must avoid.

My only issue with Main Story mode is that your character control is limited by the scenario. The mode acts as a tutorial for basic character combos, Rage Drives, Rage Arts, and other new game aspects. The problem is that a particular character’s full command list may not be available for input. For example, some episodes would not allow grabs or Rage Arts because they had not been introduced yet. This might make the game more accessible for new players, but an absolute pain for others that actually know how some characters work. If Akuma is wide open and charging an attack, I should not miss― also known as “whiff”― several grab attempts due to this mechanic. Yes, this is a gameplay concern, but it occurs in Story Mode and directly affects your progression.

Anyone questioning games as an art form should sit through Tekken 7’s Main Story mode. The final battles and scenes before the credits roll were powerful and moving.  The gravity of what you witness leaves you mouth agape, questioning where will Bandai Namco go from here and when?


Graphics

Ah, now for the part that is thrown in our faces with every game/console release: how does it look?

Overall, Tekken 7’s graphics make pristine use of the Unreal Engine 4. Character movements are not choppy or broken, the CG cut scenes to gameplay transitions are smooth, and you can see every little rage wrinkle on Heihachi’s face. Each strand of Lars’ Goku-esque, visual-kei hairstyle is clear and flowing. The big picture is inspiring, but the smaller picture leaves more to be desired. Face model quality appears to differ based on the character you play with. Lucky Chloe, Kazuya, Akuma, Heihachi, Jin...they look complete during their win animations. Their faces are emotive and fleshed out. Look at Lili or Lars’ win animations, and the characters’ faces look like paper mask print outs. Lili’s fingers are reminiscent of PS2 era classics. You know the rectangular fingers that are stuck together like Mattel’s Barbie hands.

If the loading screen before a local match is long enough to smear peanut butter on one slice of bread, there is no reason some characters should be incomplete. It gives the impression that some of Tekken 7’s roster received special treatment. But hey, do not take my word for it. Check out this XBox One Arcade gameplay of Lili and tell me what you think.


This might seem like sweating the small stuff, but we live in an era where games traverse the line between real and imaginary daily. Playing favorites with character model quality could influence a player’s fighter choice.


“Prepare for the Next Battle?”

Yes, you damn well should! I give Bandai Namco a hard time about the input mechanics and graphics, but that is only because I appreciate the Tekken franchise and Bandai Namco’s work. I mean, I have been playing their games since long before the companies merged together. I remember a Soul Calibur without charges and guard impacts.  Delayed inputs did not discourage  playing multiple local multiplayer matches for three hours a sitting and having a genuinely fun time. Also, let it be known that Tekken’s official Twitter account, @TEKKEN , has been responsive and alert to fans inquiries since the official launch last week. I look forward to observing how the team handles the console release quirks and DLC, if any.

Tekken 7 for the XBox One has been an entertaining learning experience here at Twilight Horizon home base. Do you have any gripes or notable appreciation for the new installment? Leaving a comment below or share your feedback via @Xminess . As always,

Until Later Guys,

^_^

Big "thank you" to @Fighters_Gen and PixelEnemy at Zerochan for the high quality photos.

Want to join other fighters in the next battle along the Tekken World Tour? Go here www.tekkenworldtour.com for tour schedule information and details.

Source: Bandai Namco Entertainment. 8 June 2017. https://www.bandainamcoent.com/games/tekken-7





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