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Tag Archives: Arcade

 

 

Scrape.

 

 

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.

 

Share.

 

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.

Strider/Jin.

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.

 

Deus.

 

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.

 

Era.

 

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.

 

Italy.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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Dissolve.

 

 

The Christmas my mother bought me a Game Boy was the most exciting Christmas of my life.

I ran away to the living room, and unboxed the portable in a state of fury.

I plugged away at Tetris for hours.

It was new and phenomenal.

The original GB was fat, used four AA batteries, and had a small display that wasn’t true black and white.

This led to a significant re-design in 1996.

Nintendo expanded the display, slimmed down the hardware, and lowered the power requirements to two AAA batteries: The Game Boy Pocket.

When I got a GBP, I gave my original hardware to my cousins in Lebanon.

Gaming hardware in the Middle East is hard to come by. Either it isn’t available, available in extremely limited quantities, or priced so high that it is out of the reach of median income families.

That’s why the Middle East is full of knock-off systems and pirated software: It is an under-served market with no ‘local’ chains, the only reasonable access available through alternative channels.

One summer my mother bought two games to give to my cousins as gifts. I had to choose which game to give to who.

The two games were Mega Man IV and Tetris Attack.

To a cousin on my mother’s side, I gave Mega Man. To my cousins on my father’s side (the ones I had given the Game Boy to) I gave them Tetris Attack.

At first, it felt like a raw deal. I spent a lot more time with my paternal cousins during the summer, so along with them, I was stuck with Tetris Attack.

While I had spent hours playing Tetris that Christmas years before in Southern California, at this point I had  acquired a stronger sense of games.

Much like all the children around me, I was looking for the fastest, coolest, most action-driven games around.

Tetris Attack, in the face of Mega Man, seemed like the worse game.

We were sad about it.

We cried for awhile.

But TA snuck up on us. It was a slow burn.

At first, we played it for 10-15 minutes at a time, sometimes going weeks without touching it.

Then the sessions started getting longer and the intervals shorter.

Then discussions around the game started happening and it became a summer staple until the Game Boy broke.

When that happened, I brought Tetris Attack back home with me.

 

Pucks.

 

As portable hardware has developed so has the puzzle game.

Much like how Call of Duty borrowed RPG elements beginning with CoD 4, puzzles have become mashed into other genres.

In 2007, Infinite Interactive released Puzzle Quest for the Nintendo DS.

Puzzle Quest was a quest-based RPG in which battles were fought in a match-3, Bejeweled-style system. It was wildly successful and was subsequently ported to every system possible.

In 2008, Braid was released and was recognized for its ingenious combination of platforming and time-manipulation as a tool for puzzle solving.

2009 saw the release of Knights in the Nightmare on the DS. A mystery bag of puzzle, RPG, and STG mechanics.

Since the mid-late 2000’s, puzzle games have continued to evolve and much like how puzzle elements have appeared in other genres, puzzle games are beginning to expand by incorporating outside elements as well.

Hence, Gunhouse.

 

Kevlar.

 

Necrosoft Games released Gunhouse in early 2014 on Playstation Mobile.

It is a game defined by mechanical complexity.

In Gunhouse, the player is tasked with defending a home of orphan children against different enemy types.

The house itself is the puzzle. The player is tasked with matching and combining different icons to create more powerful ‘blocks’.

The strategy element in the Gunhouse puzzle is threefold:

-While combining blocks, the player has to decide whether to try and create powerful blocks in the back of the house to be used as bombs or in the front of the house where they are used to create guns.

-At the top of the screen, there are bonus icons which indicate what weapon types receive bonus damage.

-The puzzle phase is timed.

Part of the genius in the puzzle design lies in that the player’s main control option is to choose how far to swipe a single row.

Each row is three blocks wide. The player has to decide how far to the right or left a row should be moved in order to drop blocks into specific places in order to combine.

Once the timer runs out on the puzzle phase, the gate on the house begins to come down.

This offers the player a last-chance opportunity to finish their combinations and set up their weapons for the attack phase.

In the attack phase, enemies swarm the house. The player has control over when the guns begin to fire and when to use bombs.

The objective is to stop the enemies from getting too close to the house and kidnapping the children.

Like the puzzle phase, the attack phase is timed.

Once the attack phase is finished, the game loops back to the next puzzle phase.

Visually, Gunhouse is an echo of the bright colors and animation of older arcade puzzle games.

The visual design is reminiscent of games like Mr. Driller and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo.

Gunhouse is a beautiful game.

The art is clean and bold.

Because of its visual stylings and mechanical intricacy, it’s comparable to Knights in the Nightmare.

While KitN is a fun game, it is extremely complex.

Each system in that game influences other systems in ways that may not necessarily be obvious to the player.

It also lacks fluidity in the way its systems engage with each other.

The beauty in the mechanical design of Gunhouse is that all the systems engage with each other in obvious ways.

The player understands the consequences of not creating blocks in the front of the house or not utilizing the bonus weapon type.

The interaction between the two main phases of the game (puzzle/attack) influence the player’s strategy in either phase.

For instance, during an attack phase an enemy swarm might be loaded with flying-types. This then influences the player’s strategy in the puzzle phase by focusing on building more powerful guns near the top of the house (the house has three gun points: top, middle, bottom).

The game is constantly moving and shifting.

The strategic depth of Gunhouse is a product of reading feedback. This makes it a truly dynamic experience.

Puzzle games generally grow stale quickly due to their inability to challenge or engage the player after awhile.

Arcade puzzle games suffer from this less, but can also feel extremely unfair due to vertical difficulty spikes.

Gunhouse strikes the perfect balance of both strategic depth and aesthetic flair.

Gunhouse is an important game.

It is important because it brings together so many dynamic elements and plays them off of each other without any waste.

It borrows different systems from arcade STGs all the way to console RPGs, and it works wonderfully.

Gunhouse is an arcade puzzle game that knows what it is and what its doing.

There is no trying in Gunhouse.

 

It is effortless.