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Monthly Archives: July 2014






I joined Twitter in 2010.

I had been unemployed for almost a year since graduation and was eating through the endless time on my hands by looking for work, writing, and reading.

The year before, I developed a larger appreciation for Japanese culture.

For Japanese history, art, literature: Expanding beyond the world of games and anime.

In 2009, Jake Adelstein released his memoir: Tokyo Vice.

It told the story of Jake’s life in Japan as an investigative journalist and the only American to be admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club.

Having turned down the opportunity to work in Japan, I was able to experience Tokyo through his work.

After finishing Tokyo Vice, I spent days finding a way to get in touch with Jake.

Due to the sensitive nature of his work, he had made himself difficult to find.

Scouring the internet was fruitless, so I settled on the only public face he had: Twitter.

I explicitly joined Twitter to tell him how much I enjoyed his book.

I was absorbed by it.

After a few exchanges with Jake, I had no idea what to do with this network.

When I moved to Rochester, I stopped writing.

When I started working, social networks didn’t mean much to me.

Through SRK, I found the Rochester FGC and because of that, after a three year absence, I was pulled back into maintaining an internet presence.

I reopened Twitter in 2013 and saw how much it had changed.

The sheer amount of content Twitter was producing, the amount of access it was allowing.

I understood it better now.

I had been listening to the Insert Credit Podcast since its inception, having been a follower of the original site.

I always felt Tim Rogers understood games and language on an intrinsic level.

I always felt he understood what was necessary to express and understand.

After hearing him plug his Twitter account on numerous podcast episodes, I went on to find him.

I thanked him for his excellent writing. He thanked me back.

I was still buying games from Gamestop and stopped by one day to purchase Muramasa Rebirth.

A child was digging through the used game bin and found a knockoff, CoD-style, console FPS.

As I handed the money to the cashier, I overhear the child pleading with his father:

“I want to get this game because I want to be in the army when I grow up!”

I laughed. I remember dropping lines like that to convince my parents of whatever games caught my eye.

At home, I related the story to Tim.

He wrote back: I could have just downloaded Kokuga for the 3DS and I would never have had to leave my house.

I looked up Kokuga.

I couldn’t believe I had never heard of this game.




Kokuga had been released for a year by the time I downloaded it.

As I have often stated: I have a deep, profound love of STGs and have always prided myself on knowing of the ones that mattered.

I couldn’t believe how I had lapsed here.

Kokuga was not only made by G.rev, one of the world’s last remaining and most storied STG houses responsible for the likes of Under Defeat, Ikaruga, and Border Down, but was also directed by Hiroshi Iuchi: Director of Radiant Silvergun, Gradius V, and Ikaruga.

What makes G.Rev’s STGs different from Cave‘s is that they all rely on a combination of fringe mechanics that push the conceptual identity of the genre.

Cave is a company driven by pure arcade action, overflowing with style.

G.rev is a laboratory.

Ikaruga has color-switching. Radiant Silvergun has seven weapons. Border Down’s levels change depending on where you are shot down.

And Kokuga isn’t any different.

Kokuga is not afraid of experimentation and may be the purest form of G.rev’s vision to date.

The game takes place in an era of war between two nations and the player is tasked with piloting country A’s most advanced weapon: Kokuga, a tank of the future.

This is a game made at the cross-section of freedom and gambling.

The player is left to choose where to begin the game.

Levels are all labeled alphabetically and the general trend is that as levels progress upwards, the more difficult they are.

Unlike many of its famous ancestors, Kokuga is a multi-directional, non-scrolling shooter.

It maintains the verticality of other shooters, but allows the player more maneuverability.

The levels are very tightly designed. Nearly claustrophobic.

Levels are littered with obstacles and embedded/mobile enemy types.

To succeed in Kokuga, the player must be aware of the spaces around them, more so than in nearly any other shooter I’ve seen.

Kokuga isn’t just about dodging bullets, it’s about tactical positioning and resource management.

It’s a roguelike disguised as an action game.

The game takes place on the top screen, while the bottom screen is utilized for selecting powerups.

There are four powerups, assigned at random, sitting on the bottom screen.

Any one of them may be selected at any time to bolster either the tank’s defensive or offensive ability.

Each powerup is limited in both duration and frequency. Once you use a powerup, another one is assigned to the slot at random until they run out.

Burn through powerups too quickly and the boss fights become overwhelming. Burn through them too slow and the player is bogged down by the enemy.

This is a game that actually holds the player accountable for the decisions they make.

This is a game that does a fantastic job at giving the player a simulation of the responsibility that comes with power.

The player is free to decide where they would like to enter the world and after making the choice, they are thrown into closed, tight spaces and forced to fight through swarms with very limited resources.

This transition is seamless.

In a traditional STG, the player is only ever allowed to make micro-tactical decisions that mainly involve movement.

The urgency in classic STGs is filtered through the forced scrolling levels.

Even in newer STGs, urgency is manufactured through inverted mechanics: Sine Mora uses time/time-manipulation. Luftrausers uses a simulation of gravity.

While there is tactical urgency in Kokuga, the focus is more on the broader, more strategic plane.

It is a type of urgency which burns slowly at first and accelerates as the level becomes increasingly difficult.

This is further reinforced by the smooth, calm movement of the tank itself. Nothing feels rushed.

Kokuga’s greatest strength is that it does not rely on only one mechanic.

Even though by releasing it on the 3DS eShop, one may get the impression that this isn’t an important game, it is by far the purest manifestation of G.rev.

One of G.rev’s weaknesses has always been their over-reliance on one main mechanic around which others revolve.

One of the problems with Ikaruga was that after awhile it’s color-switching became so overused that it quickly lost its novelty.

With Kokuga, G.rev have been able to multithread their innovative style, creating a game full of interesting mechanics that fit together in a near-perfect way.

Kokuga’s systems not only maximize the game’s obvious strengths, but give the player a more dynamic experience by broadening their access to choice while throwing in a randomness element (powerups) within already tight margins.

Kokuga is a deep meditation on elegant, immersive, mobile game design.

It’s frightening this game almost passed by me unnoticed.

It’s frightening that it has flown under the radar of so many others.

Kokuga is everything G.rev have worked toward: A pure distillation of their innovative style.

With it’s somber tone, wonderful styling, and mechanical coherency: It is the true evolution of Ikaruga.

A true evolution of G.rev’s experimental precision.










In the arcade dark, desperation blazed.

Late 90’s: Everyone knew the trade was dead, that arcades were unsustainable.

That didn’t stop new ones from opening.

Like the euphoric hallucinations of a dying hermit, the hardware was twisting.

It became about size, flash, otherness, heat.

Some cabs grew large, some lit up like Vegas, some flowed with murals.

Arcades became desolate cities, the hardware became the graff and the alleys.

Before this, my passion had settled in the rapid flows of STGs.

As the death knell grew louder, STG cabs stood unchanged.

Smooth and fluid, they understood themselves better than other games.

They were simple to understand, beautiful to look at, exciting to engage with.

Their fundamental design was perfect and exhilarating.

For almost a decade, STGs colored the base of my arcade experience.

As the late 90’s began, as stranger and  more surreal cabs manifested, I celebrated the end by expanding.

I understood what the other genres were. I waded in their ideas enough.

Light gun games, fighting games, racing games, puzzle games.

Arcades gave us multi-game literacy.

Shuffling through the exposed subconscious of the era, I came across a new kind of fighting game.

I messed around with Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat II. I was terrible.

But in this time and place, I had lost the self-consciousness that had driven me away from the fighting genre.

Marvel vs. Capcom was strange, brash, and flashy.

It did not care what you thought about it or yourself.

It had something to say and it celebrated the end like a lone tank crew charging down an enemy battalion.




Marvel vs. Capcom was not the first crossover title to combine the two universes.

Capcom released two games prior: X-Men vs Street Fighter (1996) and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter (1997).

None of the arcades I went to had either, making MvC the first crossover fighting game I was exposed to.

MvC1 released in two variations: a large screen format and the standard cab format.

The local arcade had the large cab which lit up like white phosphorous in the dark.

The first thing you notice about MvC is how much it flashes.

How bright it burns.

The colors are simple and bold, searing.

The levels are dynamic and had more verticality than I was used to in a fighting game.

It was a fireworks show lighting up the heart of a dying industry.

When I got a chance to engage with it, I had no understanding of tiers.

With fighting games I had always assumed that the developers gave all the characters asymmetric, but equivalent tools.

I chose my team based on looks.


The assists were chosen at random (sort of).

MvC is a physical game.

The characters have real weight and density, they have honest friction.

The physicality of the game reminded me of SFII.

Its speed and difficulty of Strikers 1945.

While I found some success in the single-player campaign, I failed competitively.

Looking back, I just didn’t know enough about fighting games.

I enjoyed my time in that world.

I enjoyed the end of that time.




Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was released two years later.

One of the most anticipated releases in the arcade world.

The large cab was enormous, with a screen that swallowed everyone’s field of vision.

The graphics were improved and the character roster had expanded to levels never before seen in the genre.

With the breadth of character choice, Capcom also expanded from a tag-team fighting system to a full trio.

MvC2 was more explosive, faster, more chaotic than its predecessor.

It suffered for this.

I still had no idea about fighting games so I ended up sticking with my MvC1 team: Strider/Jin.

I put Jill Valentine in the third slot. I loved Resident Evil.

Something was off for me the second my first match started.

Something was lost.

While the art and levels honed the original’s bold, bright aesthetic, it lost its physicality.

The characters felt lighter, faster, less fricative.

This made MvC2 a better game to watch than 1, but not as necessary to play.

It was a social game before the era of mobile internet.

It was a prophecy.

It was a game you stood around and discussed in awe of what you were seeing.

The initial shock value of the game was high. With 56 characters to choose, it seemed like a game of true expression.

Over time, it became evident that along with Capcom not honing the movement, they hadn’t really taken the time to balance it.

In going for a faster game, a more chaotic game, Capcom had only made a handful of teams viable at high-level play.

MvC1 had been broken as well, but proportionally the player had more, real options with less than half the selection of 2 (22 characters).

MvC2 was bright and empty, like the place it was born into.




Marvel vs. Capcom 3 wouldn’t come out for another 11 years.

Capcom lost the Marvel license after MvC2.

By the time MvC3 released, the arcades were gone.

Many of the last remaining, best known arcades in the U.S. had either closed or were on the verge of closing.

MvC3 had no understanding of the time that had spawned its predecessors.

MvC3 was more ‘floaty’ than either of the first two games.

There was even less friction, less density than MvC2.

It also lost a lot of the brightness, a lot of the flash.

The art style was altered, creating a dark, murky, muted world.

This was Marvel vs. Capcom for the home generation.

In spite of its poor physics and boring style, Capcom did mange to improve in a few areas.

MvC3 produced more viable teams.

The game doesn’t just boil down to variations on the same team at high-level play.

Almost every year since its release, the meta-game has changed.

This made it even more watchable than MvC2.

Capcom understood the social draw of MvC2 and honed it further.

MvC3 is a fighting game that generates an enormous amount of discussion and collaboration.

It is often touted as being ‘fun to watch’ by the fighting game community even for those who don’t play it.

While the first two games in the MvC series were about chaos and explosiveness, MvC3 was about experimentation.

In the arcades, a person didn’t have the time or money to poke around inside a game.

Either someone was going to challenge you or someone was waiting for you to finish.

There was always a sense of urgency: You had to be able to develop and pick up technique in repeated bursts of play and in carefully watching the competition.

By turning away from the urgency of its arcade roots (there is no Marvel vs. Capcom 3 arcade cabinet for instance), by increasing the viable options available to the player, Capcom transitioned a series which grew out of the brash, colorful dreams of a dying market to a darker, colder era more geared towards experimentation, technicality, and discussion.

I miss the flash and physicality of MvC1.

I miss the chaos and breadth of MvC2.

But in making MvC3 more social and more open to experimentation, Capcom pivoted the game for a new market.

While the changes may have left MvC3 with a less satisfying aesthetic experience overall, the series has adapted and will survive in a new era instead of going down with the place and the time that birthed it.




Watching STGs struggle outside of arcades has been painful.

With all their elegant design and beauty, to see them collapse cuts deep.

Fighting games tend to be slow to adapt: 11 years between MvC2 and 3. 12 years between Street Fighter III and IV.

But they are able to change and yet carry on the seeds of arcade tradition into new futures and technologies.

The collaborative and competitive nature of fighting games is what made the communities around them strong enough to survive the collapse.

Strong enough to celebrate the beginning and the end without weeping at the ruins.

Something has been lost.

That can’t be denied.

The death of the arcade was tragic and infuriating.

It was a slow decline, like watching someone you love whither away from some terminal illness.

But rather than mourn the loss, MvC embraced it.

The series celebrated what was and what was to come.

The FGC did the same:

Not always with grace, but with an endurance that can only come from profound loss and the enigmatic, joyous love of competition.










Near the giant Hawken mech looming over the show floor, sat the Transistor booth.

PAX East 2013 was my first video game convention. It was the first time I traveled out of state with my wife.

She had only been in the country for a month. She was excited to see Boston. She didn’t care about video games.

I like that though.

I like that her world is bigger than this.

I like that she still tries to understand what I mean when I talk about games.

She still reads the things I write here.

She still goes with me to PAX.

PAX East 2013 was when I began to respect indie games.

I had taken issue with independent games in the years prior.

I disliked their constant rehashing of 8 and 16-bit aesthetics. I disliked how, for the most part, they never seemed to take themselves seriously, that everything was a big joke. I disliked their lack of mechanical polish.

I was also down on AAA games. I hated all their bloat and lack of innovation.

But I saw indie games at PAX with promise.

Hawken. Mercenary Kings.


I knew about Supergiant Games. I knew they made Bastion.

I never played Bastion. I knew that it got a lot of credit for doing interesting things with narration.

It’s hard to pin down what made me not want to play it, maybe because it looked like a more involved Braid: Another colorful game about deconstruction.

Standing outside the Hawken booth I stared at the mural:



I knew in 2013 that this was a game I wanted to play.

A female lead, robots, a giant sword, a city: Neo-noir Cyberpunk Concentrate.

I liked what I saw so much that I didn’t want to play the game before it was released.

I wanted to be surprised.

Even when it showed up again at PAX East 2014, I avoided the Supergiant booth.

Transistor released a few months later in May 2014.

And it surprised me.

And it mixed me up.




Transistor is a celebration of the urban.

It is about the love of the city. It is about the love of the self.

It is about Narcissism.

Cloudbank is a place defined by change: A place that shifts according to the will of the citizenry.

Everything from the weather to new structures are voted on and enacted according to majority opinion.

Cloudbank is the final extension of urban expression.

It has both canonized and limited the will of the deviant: Destruction of property by the majority.

The fundamental conflict in Transistor comes into play when the city’s elites, the Camerata, use ‘The Process‘ to preserve parts of the city, to solidify the city, to slow down the change.

To manipulate The Process, the Camerata utilized the Transistor: A sword-like object which doubled as a tool for issuing commands to The Process and storing data for urban development.

The Camerata lose the Transistor after they try to assassinate Red, Cloudbank’s most influential singer, with the Transistor.

The Camerata were attempting to trap Red inside the Transistor in order to use her persona to influence future development of the city along with the traces of other notable Cloudbank natives.

The assassination attempt goes wrong when a man jumps in the way of the Transistor, taking most of the blow for Red.

The man is then ‘downloaded’ into the Transistor and Red, having been slightly injured by the weapon, loses her voice.

Red takes the Transistor and goes to find answers while the Process is no longer under control, rapidly deconstructing the city.

The man inside the Transistor becomes the narrator throughout the game.

Initially, I enjoyed the stylized narration.

The man’s voice is cool, smooth, flowing, loose.

At some point though, it all flipped. The stylization began to sound like a parody of itself.

The voice begins to annoy.

The man inside the Transistor talks too much.

The game would have benefited from tighter narration.

The seriousness and integrity of the voice would not have become the joke it ends up being.

By far the worst of this occurs when Red begins to encounter the Spine, a massive Process enemy, which affects the voice of the Transistor.

His voice becomes slurred, slow, stuttering.

This would not have been so terrible, but the narrator refuses to stop talking.

It becomes difficult to listen to and was grating enough that I almost wanted to shut off the game.

The gameplay suffers from the same problem.

Transistor’s combat is highly tactical.

In battles, the player can initiate a tactical mode which freezes the enemies. The player can then set a sequence of actions. Actions are limited by a bar at the top of the screen.

The actions are then initiated after the player confirms.

During fights, the player has access to four active abilities, which can be further enhanced by up to two passive abilities each.

Initially, the combat is satisfying.

It’s all about angles and positioning.

It is a game of pool taking place at some dark bar in Parasie Eve‘s New York.

But as the game progresses, as the player becomes more involved in the plot, the combat and the narration become the least interesting parts of the game.




At this point, at the point where the narration becomes a parody and the combat becomes a slog, the real beauty of the passive elements bursts out.

Cloudbank itself is stunning.

The intricacy and level of detail is inspiring.

The entire game is rendered in cyber Art Nouveau:



Supergiant did an excellent job in making Cloudbank a place the player wants to be.

It is dripping with character.

It feels lived-in.

Near the end, as The Process deconstructs the city, there is a sense of mourning, of loss for this place.

Spending a few hours in Cloudbank, one cannot help but become attached to its expansive, colorful vistas.

Its urban density.

Its thick flourishing.

The look of the city, the art of the game, is further enhanced by the music.

Transistor’s music is full of mourning as well.

It breaks the fourth-wall.

All the music in the game is sung by Red.

The player is being exposed to the same sounds, the same music that garnered Red such a massive following in Cloudbank.

The use of Red’s music forces the player to confront the loss of her voice.

Her music is also a celebration of the city, an epitaph in the face of its loss.

The player relates to it, having become attached to the place.

The way the art and the music work together seamlessly, the way they include the player, is not something that has been done before.

Transistor is at its best when it’s not trying to be a game.

Transistor is at its best when it’s just trying to tell a story.

What Supergiant does well is find new ways to express narratives. They should focus more on that.

Afterall, it was the promise of the art of Transistor that made me pay attention to it:


The gaze of a determined woman in a dying, neon-drenched city.