Monday, March 30, 2009

Gamestop's Street Fighter IV Round 3 tournament

Gamestop has been holding a national tournament for Street Fighter IV players and Jenna and I went to check out the action a few weeks ago.

We managed to catch the third round of the tournament with the final round gathering the top players from all over the country in San Francisco. The grand prize of that tournament is entrance to EVO 2009. The winner of the tournament we attended won a Tournament Edition Fight Stick, a very desirable prize on its own.

The action was fierce between the players and there were plenty of onlookers as well. You could sort of sense a community growing in the building. As I watched later rounds of the tournament, I overheard conversations between the fighters. Phone numbers and gamertags were being exchanged. It seemed SF IV was fulfilling some unsaid promise to rebuild the fighting game community that reigned in the days of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. I half expected quarters to take up space on the controller decks.

How does a game go from "Ken Fighter IV" to a real, tried and true iteration of a great fighting game franchise? The skilled players remain, while the mob that buys the game the day its released and moves on to the next Halo.

I think that phenomenon is really problematic. With the rise of online play there's a grab-bag of benefits and costs. Now people will always have someone else to play with, but is that other person someone you really want to spend your gaming time with?

I know that the answer for me is frequently "No." How do we build a network of people to play against that consists of people we actually want to be around and interact with and match our skills and wits with?

There were a few things I noticed about the competition. A lot of people mained Balrog and Byson. As the tournament eliminated more and more competitors, we kept seeing more of those two fighters. Ironically enough, the only Zangief we saw lasted until the very last round, where he was (to our dissappointment) bested by a Balrog. The only Ken at the tournament lasted about half way through. As I watched the competitors exiting the stage, I wondered what their opinion was of the lone Ken. It was a much younger competitor.

My hypothesis is that, the only Zangief at the tournament had probably been playing SF competitvely since SF II, while the only Ken we saw was making his first foray into competition.

I'm hoping to make my way up to San Francisco for the Final Round. I wonder what kind of mix we'll see at that tournament.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Late to the Party: Mirror's Edge

Lately I haven't been able to buy games as frequently as I'd like to.  New titles come out all the time and there's always something that appeals to me as a gamer.  But lately I haven't been able to swing the cash to buy games all the time so I've been able to go back and finish older titles or to replay games I really liked.

Over spring break I took the opportunity to play through Mirror's Edge again and it reminded me of how much I liked the game.  Thinking about it, I had never written a review.  So in a new column entitled "Late to the Party" I'll be reviewing or writing about anything I'm playing a little later than the general community.

Mirror's Edge caught my eye from the first I had heard about its development.  DICE does first person shooters very well, as evidenced by their work on the Battlefield series.  I was really interested to see something different being done with the first person perspective in games.  Plus I've always had this sort of passing interest in Parkour and free-running so a game based on that style of movement was especially attractive to me.

The campaign is really short.  Maybe too short for some people.  But one of my favorite games of all time is Starfox 64, a game you have to play through in one sitting for lack of a save file, so I didn't mind being able to blast through the story missions in about 4 hours.  I think that the first person perspective does a good job of conveying drama and action, but DICE implemented extra cutscenes, animated in a 2D style to play out what happens in the interim of the running and fighting you do as Faith.

The first person perspective works really well.  I remember when Halo 2 came out and it was this really big deal that you could see your own feet.  When playing Mirror's Edge you can tell that there was a lot of running around the halls of the office for the development team.  When running and jumping and vaulting over objects, where do your arms and feet come into vision?  It works.  It works so well in fact that you might experience motion sickness.

I really like the design of the game as well.  The aesthetic of the unnaturally clean city makes your struggle against it seem overwhelming.  The level design also plays into this, despite the clean city, there are plenty of construction sites for you to scale, and you'll be utilizing it a lot, vaulting and wall running over and off of paneling.

I will say that Mirror's Edge isn't for everyone.  There isn't a lot to the campaign, so the real value proposition is whether or not you'll get sucked into the time trials.  I know I have a tendency to restart everything as soon as a I make a mistake, so the time trials keep me coming back for more and more.

The last thing I'll say is that the music is great.  It maintains itself through out the entire game, it fits to every situation, and it rises and falls with your character and the progression through the level.  Are people shooting at you?  The music is intense and driving, pushing you to run as fast as you can.  Is the player trying to figure there way up several floors?  The music encourages you but doesn't stress you out.

Mirror's Edge is available on XBOX 360, PS3, and PC.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

That's the Name of the Game - 2

I've posted my second column over at This week I wrote about OnLive and what it would mean to gaming:

Why is this important? Why should I care? The biggest value proposition that OnLive presents to gamers is that upgrading your computer is no longer necessary. As is, presumably, buying a new console every 5 years. Now all you need to do is maintain your broadband connection, as well as your subscription to the OnLive service. How is this revolutionary? Console manufacturers generally lose money on their newest consoles. Their bottom line is always helped out by the sale of games with those new consoles. Now, with internet speeds reaching higher and higher, the hardware market can be cut out and games can be streamed into the player’s household, a lot like Youtube, or Netflix’s streaming services.

I'll be writing more on my visit to GDC 09 later this week.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

That's the Name of the Game

This blog represents are large push on my behalf to really start working on my career path. I'm still headed into gaming journalism, but I'm trying to get a foot in the door with some work while still practicing my writing and working at school.

In an effort to get my name further out there and to have more people reading my writing, I've started a weekly column called "That's the Name of the Game" at The weekly column will drop on the site every Friday. Is there a good time to list it at? I was thinking 3:00 p.m. so that anyone looking on the site in the afternoon and evening will see it on the main page.

I certainly hope that any readers here will check it out, and starting next week I'll be linking back to this blog within the body of my column.

This weeks column centers on the Nintendo Wii and how it has affected the greater gaming demographic. I also write a bit on how the industry is trying desperately to get all those new gamers to buy their products:

Where does that leave the general public? It opens the door for all the countless ways the publishers and developers will try to sell games. It also allows the video game industry to redefine "gamer," and you can bet they’re going to cast a wide net.

Friday, March 20, 2009

IGF Awards and "Dyson"

GDC '09 is next week (my spring break) and I might actually be able to go this year. I'm really excited at the prospect of walking around and feeling like a more legitimate reporter. I'll be on the look out for famous faces, but I'm not really sure I'll see too many. All this is besides the point though because I wanted to write a little something about one of the Independent Games Festival's finalists: "Dyson."

"Dyson" is a cool little title I tried out at the recommendation of (shit, I forgot where I saw it...).

It is an IGF finalist and a small one at that. It was a short download and I've already gotten a handful of hours of play out of it.

The game reminds me a lot of Galcon for the iPhone but with a little more depth and a lot slower pacing.

In the game, you take control of seedlings and attempt to terraform several planets. You can trade the seedlings in for structures on these small gray planets, including trees to grow more seedlings and defensive structures. The pace of the game is very slow. You'll methodically build up your forces, try to mutlitask, capturing multiple planets at the same time, as well as managing where your seedlings are located because they act as both offense and defense for your planets most of the time.

The game has great colors with a very minimalistic approach to a lot of the concepts presented in the game play and the backdrop, but what I enjoyed most about the title is the music spaced in between bouts of action.

The music will rise and fall, landing small plinks on the electronic soundscape, while also rising in with a strong beat. You might not even notice it, but it certainly plays a large part in the game.

As I said, the pacing of the game is slow, even as you progress through the levels, you could probably do other things while you're waiting for your seedling force to build up. I found the game to be really relaxing while still allowing me to multitask outside of the game world. I probably played for about an hour during class tonight, but don't tell my professor.

I suggest checking out "Dyson" as well as the other IGF finalists. You can find them over at the Independent Games Festival's webpage.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Response

Mr. N'Gai Croal responded to me the other week. He's a busy guy, understandably, but he did send me a few links which led to interesting reads.

It's going to take some time for me to respond to these questions, and right now, time is a commodity that I don't have very much of. If you reach out to me again in mid-April, I may have more time then. In the interim, you may want to check out the interview I did here... well as my most recent Vs. Mode exchange with Stephen Totilo, here...

Part I

Part II

The gamecritics interview was especially interesting in its summation of N'Gai's feelings on the "games as art" arguements made. The Vs. Mode exchanges are interesting in their own right, and you can certainly tell that N'Gai and Stephen know eachother well.

Hopefully, all of you Wellspring readers out there will enjoy the good read too.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Discovering a Gamestop

The other day, my girlfriend Jenna and I were milling about town before seeing "Wendy and Lucy" (a great, but short movie). We went over to the Barnes and Noble on Stevens Creek Boulevard near Campbell.

Next to B&N was a Gamestop I had never been in before. It was massive.

I had heard about Gamestop's redesigning some stores to encourage tournaments from EDGE, via Kotaku.

Trouble is, I didn't remember that the first tournament facility was in San Jose. Lucky me!

Of note:
  • Its really big. I wish I had more pictures, but there was a rush for time. The picture above is a raised platform with four small screens and four large screens mirroring the action on the former. Jenna and I sat down at a station and came to blows in Street Fighter IV. There was another station with a soccer game playing (I had no clue which soccer game....)
  • It's hot in there. With what seemed to be over 20 stations set up to play games throughout the store, there's a lot of fans running. Plenty of Xbox 360 machines were cranking their engines, several of which were equipped to play music games.
As far as games go, I played a few rounds of Street Fighter IV with Jenna. While rounds were very competitive, neither of us are very skillful yet. After a slight handicap adjustment, fights were very even. It seems like we've found something we could play together. If only I could afford the game (and maybe a couple of sticks to compete with). (ED NOTE: Jenna beat me several times).

As a bonus, the Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars preview-van (picture source) was in town as well. That added an extra 6 Nintendo DS to the hardware sampling the store had in it. I've been extremely wary about any excitement for GTA: Chinatown Wars, largely due to the top down view. My first experience with GTA being in 3D, I could never get a grip on the top down view. With a rotating camera, the DS title fixes this problem for me. As you turn your speeding vehicle, the city turns with it, so that the camera follows you down the street.

As far as combat goes, my time with the title was fleeting, but it seems like it will be easy to pull off after a tutorial mission or something like that. I didn't have a chance to check out a touch-screen mini game.

I think I'll be paying a return visit to the Tournament-focused Gamestop. I'm hoping to find time to actually show up for a tourney, or at least go to watch.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A letter to Mr. N'Gai Croal

I feel like N'Gai takes a very critical slant to his reporting of video games, opening up new ways to explore games through writing.  I admire his extremely developed and in-depth style of reporting and analysis, a style I hope to adapt within my own.
Here's the letter I've written to him, hopefully I'll hear back (I hope he's not too busy exploring his new career!)


I was just writing to let you know that you have allowed me to look much more seriously at the games industry as a legitimate field to make a journalistic pursuit into.  As a young writer I was always confused by the difference between sites that focused on the "Top 7 Hottest Girls in Gaming" and your Level Up blog which looked at gaming in a more critical manner, trying to make serious out of something that everyone has and continues to considered a child's pursuit. In my mind, we are not children anymore, and I'm tired of looking at games from that perspective.

In that regard I just wanted to thank you for making something out of games journalism.  You and your peers (Stephen Totilo, Brian Crecente, of note) have helped me understand the intricacies of working as a member of a burgeoning enthusiast press.  But I still have a few questions....

I write a blog, mostly for practice, and I have questions for my favorite writers (one of which is you).

Having seen where games journalism has been, where do you think it will go?  How will writers balance the way we and our readers react to the industry?  How does our relationship with the creative side of the industry affect how readers see us?  I've long thought that games journalism are a double-edged sword to developers.  We build up their projects and then when they fail to meet expectations we don't mince words in our reviews.

How do you think the fractioning of the gaming audience has affected the industry?  For better or for worse?  How does the massive "casual" audience affect the way the "hardcore" plays games?  Why does the core player feel so alienated?  I think that it might have to do with the idea that gaming has always been something that people were alienated about, a nerd-subculture, and now that its is becoming more accepted, the core gamer is quick to jump to conclusions about their industry.

While in college, what did you learn that has helped you most in your career as a games journalist?

When you started writing, was there anyone significant who helped you, or gave you a key tip?

I hope I haven't taken too much of your time.  I also want to thank you in advance for any answer or consideration you give to me.  I've been trying pretty hard to balance school with my writing and gaming at the same time.  I'm just looking to get my feet wet in the enthusiast press and I thought that asking for advice would be the best way to get some.

Thanks again,
Daniel Bischoff

P.S.  I'd also like to ask you for two more things.  If you're so inclined, could you stop by my blog?  Maybe critique what writing you see fit to?  I'd also like to ask you if its OK that I publish any answers you give me?  A large part that the blog plays in my writing is that its documenting what I do while I'm studying for my B.A.  I've made several goals for myself this semester and asking for advice was one of those goals, so I'd really like to document that advice.

Thank you again for your time, hope to see you wherever you're working next!

What should I write about while I wait for a reply?