Game Journal: Battletech (2018)July 23rd, 2021
Before I get started, lemme say that I have a very deep and personal relation with Battletech. From Mechwarrior 2, to painting figures and playing the table-top, to running campaigns over Megamek. Battletech, and it’s awkward, chunky aesthetic and it’s weird neo feudalism will always deeply appeal to me.
I love Battletech and the 2018 Battletech PC game does a lot to remind me why I love it. It also kinda blows.
Maybe Stylish is Good Enough
Battletech is a cool and stylish game. The great art, presenting Ken Burns style documentary cutscenes, mixed with a great soundtrack and overall just great presentation goes a long way. How space travel feels, how jumpships pop in and out of existance with a gently popping, eerily silent fireworks… so many things feel extremely right.
It’s also fun to see a story presenting in the earlier years of the Inner Spear. The Star League is gone, but the Clan’s aren’t hear yet and the Inner Sphere is still sliding into technological ruin. It’s also charming for a story to happen basically in the middle of nowhere, out in the Periphery.
I’m not going to get into the story. It’s not essential, but at the same time it was good enough for me to finish the Campaign. I liked the characters. I liked the tension. I loved how diverse the representation was (which also totally fits the setting). It was sufficient and then some, but without crossing the threshold into being interesting in its own right, but it helped elevate the whole package. I felt like I was taking a part in the Battletech universe, and that in and of itself is worth a lot. But even during my campaign playthrough, even while getting wrapped up in the Arano Restoration, I kept thinking… this game is kinda BS?
Battletech was Never Actually About the Gameplay
Lets be real. Tabletop Advanced Battletech has never particularly great game. Most tabletop war games aren’t. These games exist as whole hobbies. Minis, painting, lore, scenario re-enactment, PnP RPG add-ons for long term campaigns and enough balance to keep it reasonable. The games are not designed for competitive depth, they’re designed to be representative of a fiction in a fun way. By the standards of a lot of Table Top games, Battletech is actually pretty elegant!
But this put the developers of the 2018 Battletech game in a rough spot. How do you take Battletech and make it conducive to a long campaign with lasting consequences, but in a way that fits a modern tastes?
The rules end up like an impression of the classic table top rules and that is probably a good thing. Players like me who hadn’t played in years would have a hard time remembering what was actually different, while allowing them to tailor things for a digital experience. That said, there was only so much they could do without changing the feel of Battletech and some of the decisions they made were questionable.
Battletech has always made it hard to avoid damage. These are big armored tanks that take a lot of damage. Big clusters of missiles are going to slam into you, ignoring LOS and you’re gonna like it, because you’re gonna do it to the other person more! But it gets awkward when you’re trying to play an X-Commy style game of risk management and gets triple fucky when you get to the terrible missions the game has. Every mission has you send in 4 mechs to slug it out with 8-12 enemy mechs. It becomes a game of outcheesing the rather dumb AI, cutting down their firepower as fast as possible. What damage mitigation you do have is powerful (Bulwark gives huge damage reductions) but requires you to basically live in the trees. Mission are designed as if you’re not supposed to kill everyone, but clump enemies so close together and make your escape zone so out of the way that killing everything is usually the safe option.
It honestly feels very immersion breaking for me to just watch waves of mechs crash against me. These valuable, expensive machines that have operated for centuries, just throwing themselves away. In a game that should possibly closer to WW2 fighter pilot kill counts, you have slaughter, and with that slaughter, less changes to play safe. The game asks you to endure, but with no fun ways to endure. And if things go wrong? You can quit the mission at any time, cutting any tension but accepting your loses. It feels hollow. The asymmetry that makes a game like X-Com work is lost here. The only asymmetry is that the AI is dumb, but more numerous, but his equipment, in all its terror, is the same.
Some rule changes make this work. Maps, movement distances and ranges are shorter than in Table Top. This makes things more visibly manageable, but makes making use of terrain harder. Instead of trying to break LoS or use a hill to expose less of you, you’re standing on ‘cover squares’. Instead of scouting and attacking from a distance with long range units, you move in and brawl with your heaviest units. Missions never give you tonnage restrictions or BV value restrictions. You have no reason to take anything lighter than a heavy. Need a fast mobile scout? Use a Grasshopper. Especially in a game where getting hit and critted isn’t a question of if but when.
Repetitive missions with grindy objectives and little room for tactical maneuvering leads to a very dry, monotonous game that is either cruelly hard, or severely easy depending on how cheesy you’re being. I don’t think there is a single thing Battletech does better than any other game in this genre.
… Except for being Battletech.
It’s Kinda Unfair How Cool Battletech is
I should hate this game. I don’t even like Turn Based Strategy games that much. But it’s Battletech and it’s a strong Battletech story, oozing Battletech vibes and I can stomp around in a Marauder, blowing heads off with AC/5s to maximize salvage. Cheesing enemies is fun enough to survive the campaign and it wasn’t until Career where I was finally like “you know what, fuck this game?”
But you know what, that took like 80 hours so you know what? This game is pretty cool I guess, even if I wish the gameplay had just a little bit more going for it.
Battletech as a franchise is just that cool I guess.
Game Journal: Spec Ops: The LineMay 25th, 2021
I’m going to start labeling these writeups differently. I feel conflicted, usually, like I should be writing more, that I should almost be writing a review or something. So now games I play and write about be will be labeled as part of my Game Journal. While I’ll try and still give a reasonable amount of context, I am going to write (especially for more well-known game) assuming the reader has at least some familiarity with the game.
Aged But Not Outdated
I’d imagine Spec Ops: The Line can be a challenging game for some people to go back to. Almost approaching a decade old, games have matured a lot in both gameplay and narrative. A big budget game trying to have a message is nothing surprising now (even if the execution is often questionable), and from 2021 eyes, something like Spec Ops: The Line could possibly feel too on the nose, too overwrought and even too obvious. But if you can look back with your brain in 2012 mode, Spec Ops feels well ahead of its time, speaking to the audience an Indie Game type punk attitude, audacious instead of overwrought in its earnestness.
The game is also gorgeous. While little minor details can tell you when the game was made (I found myself fixated on one of my partner’s boots, with ‘shoe laces as a texture’) the game has aged remarkably well. Technology may grow old, but artistry survives. Beautiful setpiece shots and vivid colors. Before Mad Max: Fury Road, Spec Ops was the game showing the desert not as shades of brown, but as saturated and vibrant. Even the sand storms and violence cannot surpress the beauty of dubai and the game makes it clear you are in a place that once was and, in a way, still is beautiful.
The game’s almost otherworldly beauty is appropriate when matched up with the hallucinatory and trauma laden nature of the game. Despite constantly descending, you are constantly on top of huge buildings, confronted by scale and depth. It could almost be easy to miss, but the map layout is so unrealistically vertical that it comes off as some kind of mapmaking dutch angle. It’s not accidentally wrong, it’s purposefully uncomfortable. The characters are expressive, and how their bodies and demeanor change throughout the game doesn’t just serve to be immersive, but symbolically representative of the changes they’re feeling.
Third Person and Player Agency
A lot of Spec Ops discourse about the story has been done to death. If you want to know how Spec Ops communicates its distaste for heroic violence, there are many great deep dives you can read. But the thing I kept thinking about was the years of discourse about the game versus how I felt as I experienced the events in the game.
A common complaint is that the game blames you for things it forced upon you. That Spec Ops hates the player. That You Had No Choice. While this is thematically appropriate, my playing of the game didn’t feel so much like the game was forcing me and then rubbing my face into it, but instead like it was subjecting me to dramatic irony. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the game is perfectly excited for the idea that you might buy in in the same way Walker does throughout the game, but it is by no means required. From the first fire fight in the game, the voices in my head echoed ‘this feels wrong’. This wasn’t just an uncomfortable willingness for violence that one would expect from a 3rd Person military shooter. From the very beginning they identify that you are to make contact and then report back. But instead you dig deeper, and respond more violently, killing before asking questions that are clearly obvious to the player.
Do you buy in to Walker’s madness as your avatar or are you watching him, playing him like one would perform a morality play? The 3rd Person nature of the game makes things clear. You are not Walker. You might, for awhile, foolishly share his cause, but you are not him. You are watching his tragedy. How that tragedy reflects on the player is up to them.
As the game progresses and Walker becomes more visibly scarred, as his eyes become emptier, the game forcefully separates him from yourself. His actions grow more violent. Your execution animations, which I avoided for most of the game due to feeling unnecessary, increase in sadism as things progress.. Another fun detail is that ammo is scarce in the game and enemies only drop based on what weapon they have equipped…
… Unless you execute them. This was Doom 2016 years before hand. Execute an enemy and you get ammo for all your equipped weapons. The game doesn’t want to punish you, it wants you to play the part in this tragedy.
The White Phosphorus segment is chilling, harrowing and oddly beautiful. Many complain about the lack of choice, that they are forced to practically commit a war crime. The segment is gamified, throwing back to arcadey, indulgent Call of Duty segments, separating you from the violence. But are you separated? I feel this is a sign of how the game isn’t directly trying to judge the player.
The games tells you everything. It shows you what this stuff does. You know it’s horrible. Your subordinates debate the necessity. Walker makes it an order. You are (hopefully) not dropping blasts from the sky in a gleeful, guilt free haze of fun. You are waiting and cringing, fearful of what you’re going to see when you return to reality. The results are worse and then worse again.
The violence you unleashed is shown with an almost painterly artistry. This artistry is called back upon when the player gazes upon Konrad’s (or, as the Picasso quote goes, your) painting.
What’s interesting is the game gives you decisions. None of them matter, materially. The game doesn’t punish you or reward you. The decisions are either up to you, or up to your interpretation of Walker. Even come the ending, who does Walker blame? Can Walker return to a normal life, or is he consumed by violence, again, playing your part of the morality play. The endings are not a question of what you want to do, but how you contextualize the events you just saw.
I had this game sitting in my Steam library for years. It was gifted to me an eternity ago and I’m glad I finally got around to it. While the game is lacking as far as 3rd person shooters go, it’s gorgeous and the story, while heavy handed at times (with a few plot details that struggle under scrutiny), is chilling and memorable. There are many rich stories in games now, so while I won’t recommend it to everyone, it definitely has a lot to give to people who like to explore older titles.
Guilty Gear 2: Overture Is a Very Bad Game That Tried Very Hard and We Should Appreciate the EffortMay 6th, 2021
Long nights were spent in the X2 days, wondering when a TRUE Guilty Gear sequel would come out to move the story forward. Even during it’s time though, Overture looked… not terribly promising. As a Guilty Gear fan I still wanted to play it. For years, I wanted to try and enjoy it, jank and all. So here we are, well over 10 years later and gosh I didn’t miss much. But I’m glad I played it now because it is a game that is more interesting as a relic than as a thing to actually play.
Oddly Ahead and Behind the Times
Guilty Gear 2: Overture is a Online Character Action RTS MOBA released in 2007. That is 2 years before League of Legend, back when MOBAs were that “Weird WC3 Custom Map Thing”. Back before MOBA was an acryomn that meant anything.
So before the whole genre was even spreading and spawning clones, Arc System Works was trying to forward a half-born genre about 2 or 3 generations before it even fully came to maturity. All this from a company with all of one 3d game under their belt and whose 3d pipeline was completely unsuited for Overture (Battle Fantasia, for the record, laid a lot of the groundwork for many of the artistic techniques that would be brought to maturity in Guilty Gear Xrd). This is a ridiculous amount of ambition and I will never blame a company for trying to reach for the stars.
Every word in that description matters too. It is a character action game with cancels, combos, and air juggles. It’s a MOBA with towers, lanes, creeps, and hero fights. It’s an RTS. Perhaps not in the Starcraft sense, but in the sense that overture is the bastard child birthed of DOTA, Devil May Cry and fucking Herzog Zwei. You summon units, assign their rally points, pick them up and transfer them, call in backup, summon temporary allies. The systems are rich and intimidatingly dense.
… Sadly I will not be reviewing this part of the game terribly much. As a MOBA hater, the idea of playing this with another human, let alone playing it enough to have real opinions is terrifying. What I know is the online is solid, depth exists, that even people who like it admit it’s a mess but it appeals to a certain, small audience a lot.
Guilty Gear 2: Overture is a Game that is Good at Nothing
Guilty Gear 2: Overture is an ambitious game. It is a clever game. An original game.
But it’s not a good game.
Overture does not look good, even by games of its era. Even by the scope of its gameplay. It’s combat is rough and rude, even compared to its contemporaries. It’s story is incoherent. Even it’s music lags behind games in it’s own series, dragged forward by only by a few exceptionally high points. There is really no single thing about Overture that is good. The assemblage is interesting, but execution only reaches about mediocrity for fleeting seconds.
I have no proof for this, but I feel like the single player campaign for Overture was developed linearly. The game puts it’s worse foot forward and steadily improves. An initial training area that looks like it’s from an old MMO, unclear tutorial instructions detailing mechanics that will take forever to put together. Voice acting that isn’t technically bad, but is so out of tune with the characters and the script as to be painful. I was for real baffled that Sin wasn’t actually supposed to be a pissed off angry man when Xrd came out because until now, I had only been exposed to the Overture dub.
When asked to perform to move by the game, you get to immediately feel how clunky and awkward the game is. Attacks feel soft and unresponsive. Inputs for directional attacks feel alien to anyone used to other character action games. Jump canceling into a weird Guilty Gear style 2d air combo jarring and unreliable… and with all of this, the tutorial feels like it takes twice as long as it needs to, simply because it constantly has to cut back to cutscenes.
It gets worse before it gets better.
I’m not going to recap the story, which is better done by checking here, but it’s thin, made up of grandiose smoke and mirrors, supported jargon and layers of mcguffin. A lot of video game stories do this and using these tools to stitch together a coherent story. Overture lacks this. Things happen for reasons that feel like they will become clear later, but they never do. Why are you fighting with crazy ghost army magic, what the heck is “the cube for” and why does anyone want it? What does Valentine and “mother” actually want to do? WHERE THE HECK DID IZUNA COME FROM LIKE HE JUST COMES IN ON STAGE 2 LIKE YO I GUESS WE’RE WORKING TOGETHER NOW LIKE IT AIN’T NOTHIN’ like this game is a confusing mess.
Like not just the story, the whole game, because as soon as Izuna comes to help you out and pulls out that Ghost/Servant stuff and you’re fighting with armies, you’re just FLOODED with mechanics, items, things to micromanage. It’s potentially interesting but completely overwhelming. Also the game needs to teach you how to drift. Not the Strive “RC Drift” type thing (though as a side note, Roman Cancels in Overture are called “Modern Cancels” which is almost charmingly… confident?). Like you gotta Tokyo Drift. Oh god it feels bad it feels so bad. The mechanic, which allows you to do sharp turns on this crazy mega dash the game lets you do, is TECHICALLY FUNCTIONAL and is something you could definitely get good at to be a skill differentiator in online matches, but it feels so bad, so unresponsive, and a slightly mistimed input either has you do something else completely, or has you smashing into a wall and sitting through a long recovery animation. It’s a mechanic I can imagine people who’ve mastered it liking, but is so miserable feeling early as to be seen as nothing but a failure.
Despite all this, you start to see a lot of the artistic creativity of the game. Valentine’s army of EGL gasmask troops, Sol’s weird mech army, fueled by a giant muscle bound bara man bound to gears, powering two giant lighters. They were clearly trying, and invested in what they were making.
The missions continue to get worse though. As you understand the mechanics more, the game begins to cheat, or change rules on the fly. Oh, you lose when you masterghost is destroyed, but Dr. Paradigm simply getting knocked out ends the missions? You tactically capture ghosts, only for those sensible moves to betray you when random enemies teleport in? Not only does the game not actually teach you how to play it’s multiplayer, it actively makes the experience miserable. Eventually the game realizes this isn’t what the campaign should be and it slowly transforms into a… very small scale and awkward Musou game. Sure, there is pain along the way, like an ill conceived ‘stealth item finding’ mission, but you also just get to simply fuck up a lotta dudes as Ky The plot, while never sensical or clear, leads to fun moments like Valentine’s weird fake ghost troops contemplating their existence and assured death, or finally getting to confront and fight That Man. Sin and Ky even get to have a heart to heart until you go together into a giant brawl where it’s impossible to see who anyone is and kinda sucks. It sucks, but it sucks in a cool way.
The seemingly linear development means by the end of the game, the devs have kinda figured out what they’re doing. It’s clunky, but pretty fun. The last mission opens with ASW finally understanding their 3d presentation. The shots are weird and gorgeous, the writing is delightfully grandiose and nonsensical and the music fucking whips. Is it a good game now? Absolutely not, but at this point, Overture is a fun and stylish bad game. Little about the final fight with Valentine makes sense, but it’s cool and since Guilty Gear is supposed to be cool, this is a win.
Let it be said that after this point, ASW never struggles with 3d presentation ever again. Well, mostly.
Some of Xrd’s Early IKs were… not the best.
So I can’t recommend Overture like I can a lot of weird, quirky games. It’s not as lot of fun and of the whole package, only 4 missions really seem to really click. But I won’t stop you. Honestly, even though I didn’t play it, playing the Multiplayer might be the most interesting thing to try out. Still, despite all it’s failings, it’s fucked up to think ASW tried to do something this nutty and almost succeeded. I respect it.
I Wanna be the Guy: RemasteredJanuary 2nd, 2021
Let me start off by saying thank you to Natsu, Renko, Floogle, and Renex. This is not my project. I gave my feedback and helped where I could, but these four, plus numerous testers, including speedrunners such as Wolsk and Tesivonius. So with that I’d like to present I Wanna be the Guy: Remastered.
So what’s different?
The team has rebuilt IWBTG from the ground up in game maker, moving the game to Yuuutu fangame physics, remastering all the audio, fixing frame pacing issues, controller support, reasonable sound settings and putting an end to needless crashes. The game also includes other more editorial improvements like enemy death animations, but these can be modified in a series of dipswitches available in the game’s options menu, which contains both accuracy options (We reworded the Zelda sword joke but the option, for the sake of preservation, is there if you want to restore the original dialogue).
So for new players, or players looking to relive past memories, there are almost no drawbacks to this version. All changes will feel either positive or will be invisible. Fangame fans will notice the new physics, but see that only as a plus. Some people like long term speed runners or super-fans of the original game might walk away with a few complaints, but even those players have viewed this version as a massive net positive. As much as possible was copied from original MMF2 source code. The game also includes some added content and secrets, possibly with more coming in the future! All changes come with my very vocal endorsement. No change is anything I wouldn’t have considered in an update of my own.
There are two types of preservation. One is raw preservation. That the games code is available and accessible and playable. That won’t change any time soon and the original version won’t go anywhere. But there is a second type of preservation, involving access and approachability. This version of IWBTG succeeds on those merits. It is as accurate as it can be to tell 99% of the audience what they need to know about IWBTG and its history while being a much smoother experience, user friendly experience. I’m glad IWBTG is at the point where the game design is the only user hostile aspect of it.
Also thank you for the team. Originally this project was intended for the fangame community as an attempt to rehabilitate the game’s image. Sadly, the weird, buggy, janky nature of IWBTG sets it apart from other fangames, leaving it oddly divorced from the genre it inspired. The team did a wonderful job making the game feel like a modern fangame and allowing it’s place in history to be appreciated. It is a rough, crude game, but I feel it is an important one.
So please, play this remake. I endorse it so much that It’s now listed on the IWBTG download page as an “official” version.
MY HISTORY WITH FIGHTING GAMES, THE FGC, AND HOW MY FIRST LOVE, GUILTY GEAR, HELPED ME GET THROUGH THE PANDEMIC
For the last few years I’ve been doing a year in summery of every game I’ve played. That’s a bit difficult to do now, since I’ve been writing up about games as I play them. It also is a problem that I haven’t been playing many game. In fact, I’ve been playing mostly just one.
I wanted to review Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 earlier in the year but, like is the case with any good fighting game, I have no intention to stop playing it. So as the most important game in my life this year, I figured it would serve as both a great capstone for the year and an excuse to write about my history of fighting games.
This is needlessly long and needlessly detailed. I don’t know why anyone else would read it, but like many of my end of year lists, I’m writing it for me.
A Boy with an SNES
Mortal Kombat was released when I was 9 years old. I was a Cub Scout at the time and at my local mall for the Pinewood Derby. There was time before my car(or, more accurately with the secret traditions of the Pinewood Derby, my father’s car) would be racing, so I asked to go to the arcade. I was told I had about 10 minutes.
Some people remember everything. They can tell you all their friends in middle school, the names of every teacher they ever had, all the drama that happened throughout their youth. I can’t. I don’t reflect back often enough on these things to keep those memories fresh. But what I do remember I often remember vividly.
I remember that arcade. I remember where the Mortal Kombat machine was. I remember me, a socially awkward 9 year old, trying to peer around pubescent teenage boys who felt like towering giants to see a glimpse of the gory carnage that goes going on. Just the way the screen faded dark when a fatality happen made my stomach sink. Even the sounds of the game shook me. I wanted to play this game more than anything, but the line was too long so I watched and watched and watched.
I missed my race, but if I hadn’t, I doubt I would have remembered it as clearly as I remember those moments staring at a Mortal Kombat machine.
Mortal Kombat was the game I always wanted to play. My friends would also play Street Fighter and I’d tolerate it, but it never made sense to me. “Why would people play Street Fighter?” I’d ask. “There isn’t even any blood!” Young me had no appreciation for how gnarly it was for characters to puke in SF2. MK motions also agreed with me more. It was the game I could actually, to some vague extent, play. All fighting games back then made me feel clumsy. I was supremely uncoordinated as a boy, but MK made me feel the least clumsy, while appealing to me on a visceral level. I dabbled in other games sometimes — technically Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighter was my first tournament game during the 1994 Block Buster World Videogame Championship — but I’d always go back to MK.
XBand and the Original Online Warriors
My old Xband Icon
Before people could argue about Wifi vs Ethernet, I was playing Mortal Kombat 2 over copper telephone cables. We were one of the test locations for the 1994 launch of the Xband modem for the SNES and Genesis. It must have been horrible, would I would n’t know any better. I was so excited to play other people. I was “Coolkid1” if I remember right and had an appropriate cool kid avatar to boot. This was my first experience being online, chatting with people, sending email (Xband had real email!). This was also my prototype for interacting with the FGC. Since matches were mostly local (to avoid horrible long distance prices) you could… meet people. We’d exchange phone numbers and chat. Eventually we’d meet up and play laser tag. I was the young dorky kid among a bunch of teenagers and gosh did I suck at Mortal Kombat but it was fun.
Eventually I’d lose interest. A new Mortal Kombat would come out and I’d do all the fatalities (or get my friend with better execution to do them), play a bit and forget it. Occasionally I’d try xband, maybe win one game being super lame, get salty online and quit. It made me feel bad. I realized I didn’t like fighting games. I was a cool boy who liked jRPGs and playing games for the stories, dammit!
MAME, MUGEN, Soul Calibur, and Finally Clicking With Street Fighter
It wasn’t until late into High School that Fighting Games started to enter my interest again. The exact order of these things were muddy but I remember playing Alpha 3 on MAME in highschool. This sounds insane to me to think a MAME had CPS2 decrypted and implemented before Alpha 3 was even out, but that was the pace of emulation back then. A friend in school showed me Alpha 3 on one of the school computers and the game seemed so much more dynamic and interesting than Mortal Kombat. While also having a fresher “anime” aesthetic, fitting my love at the time.
I never seriously played Alpha 3 but it was when I started thinking “Maybe I COULD learn to play fighting games”. I’d go to gamefaqs, find combos, try to do to them and fail over and over again. Eventually this spiraled into me finding MUGEN, exposing me to all sorts of incredible Neo Geo characters (the Last Blade cast sticking out to me quite a bit at the time) and allowing me to play all kinds of ridiculously unfair Dragon Ball characters. It was pressing buttons in a controlled order but I still wasn’t playing people. At the very least, though, I stopped feeling clumsy.
Then my friend Jordan got a Dreamcast with Soul Calibur, which started a multi-year feud. We’d spend hours fighting him and other friends in his basement. Mitsurugi was my first true ‘main’ in a fighting game, battling hi Ivy and Cervantes. I didn’t really understand fighting games but I, in a group of people who knew nothing, was winning and I was winning by… thinking. By recognizing patterns, parrying stuff and doing that… really silly version of okizeme new players do where simply doing a meatie is enough to kill most players. I had a taste of what it felt like to be scary at a game. Not even a large fish in a small pond, but a small fish in a puddle. It was something, though!
We also dabbled in other stuff. It was my first exposer to 3rd Strike, having seen for sale on Dreamcast. Both me and my friend bought had the same thought “Wait, they made a Street Fighter 3?”
3s has never been my game and wasn’t then, but it was my first taste playing a Street Fighter game against another person while having a vague understanding about fighting games. My hands worked. I could PLAY STREET FIGHTER! Then we decided we didn’t like it and went back to Soul Calibur.
Guilty Gear X2
Years pass. Friend groups changed. I’m in college and in contact with almost no one I knew in high school. I’m hanging out with my new college friends and we’re playing Alpha on someone’s old Sega Saturn. My friend John walks in. “THEY MADE A SEQUEL!” he shouts. He’s holding a copy of Guilty Gear X2. My other friend is also excited… Paul. Most people here would know Paul as the voice of The Kid in I Wanna be the Guy. While the kid is cute, Paul is a natural villain. The type of guy who gets voted out in Among Us even when he didn’t do anything. The type of person who revels in this fear. Another one of our friends turns to me and says…
“Paul is really good at Guilty Gear. Nobody has ever beaten his Zato.”
This fucking shook me. EVER BEATEN? Paul wasn’t some bad ass tournament player or anything. We were just going pretty even in Alpha. NO ONE HAS EVER BEATEN HIM WHEN HE PLAYS HIS MAIN? I could get huge win streaks in Soul Calibur but someone would ALWAYS put me down eventually. How could one EVER beat him?
I hated this. I hated this so much. I was good at fighting games now, dammit! I’d pick someone cool and get a win on him! I couldn’t let this stand! All men are mortal!
I got Sawbladed into the fucking dirt.
I went to gamefaqs and did research. I settled on Anji, who at the time seemed to fit me aesthetically and seemed neat enough but I never felt like I was doing enough damage. “Mike, you gotta combo into super”. I look up my super…Half Circle Back, Forward.
Excuse me? I’ve done QCF+Multiple buttons. Double QCF+A Single button. Maybe even Half Circles. But HCB+F… and I have to time this to cancel an attack in a combo? When I know I actually hit? I felt stumped, but I wanted to beat Paul. I couldn’t stand this.
I got desperate. I didn’t have a PS2 so I got a rom of Guilty Gear X Advanced just so I had some way to practice! I got better, I could do things but I was still the weakest. John would fuck me up too. Charge Stun Edge on wakeup followed by Stun Dipper might as well have been unblockable at my skill level.
I kinda gave up for awhile before I started hanging out with another friend, Roger, who also enjoyed the game. He was super casual about playing it and that gave me time to breath. Despite that he was knowledgeable, suggesting characters for me to try and things to do. This is also the introduction of Patito. At the time Patito was too shy to talk, but we’d play Guilty Gear together at Roger’s. He had more fighting game experience than anyone else I’d been playing with but Patito, to this day, has a natural ability to mold to his opponent. Playing against Patito would always feel close no matter what your skill level was. So I learned. I picked up Ky and started beating people. Not Paul, but I could at least play the game. I still felt unsatisfied.
The Turning Point: Guilty Gear X2 #Reload
This went on for a whole year. I’d go back and forth being interested in Guilty Gear. Paul’s Zato was still largely undefeated (someone HAD to have gotten him in that time but he was still fucking people up). I was getting better, but barely.
I don’t know who told me about #Reload or that a PC version was available, but that’s when my life changed. Being able to go into training mode and practice things ON MY COMPUTER felt incredible. I joined Dustloop (actually before that I joined… gosh, what was it, Romancancel dot something??) and started looking up actual combos. At this time I was eyeballing Johnny and Baiken. Ky was a pragmatic choice but Baiken was a character that really appealed to me. Johnny too, but even at a low level I could tell he was too technical for me (Patito kept pushing me to play him anyways). I started engaging with the actual game systems. What was the point of a Roman Cancel? That thing that made me lose all my meter as I mashed buttons? Why would you spend all that meter when you could do a super? What, spending 50% meter to cancel a move animation was more important than doing a super??? Some moves can be “FRC”ed for only 25%???
… Well I started trying to learn two things. Baiken’s j.D frc while learning her corner dustloop. 2d Tatami j.sd air dash j.sd land f.s j.d FRC air dash j.sd
I spent months doing that over and over again. My first “Bread and Butter” combo. I started feeling hungrier. Looked for Dustloop locals. I remember cramming into a New York Zappa player’s basement to play. I probably never won a game playing at Phrekwenci’s place. There are also probably tons of player names I’d recognize if they were told to me now who played over there. But I remember specifically meeting and watching Marlinpie. At that time he wasn’t even 18 and was playing on the official PS2 Guilty Gear stick. He was at a level fair above everyone else in that cramped apartment and we all just tried to absorb whatever it was that he had.. I’d head there, sometimes with my friend Ben (tangentially related to the old Soul Calibur circle) who had also started working up his Slayer. We were hungry. Encouraged by one of the people at Phrek”s gathering, I started trying to play Johnny. His Bread and Butter was a bigger challenge than Baiken’s…
5k 5h mistfiner level 2 mid dash 5k6 5h DBT FRC j.ks j.ksd Ensenga
So many parts of this combo haunted me. Simply landing the kick after the mist finer was hard. My timing for the dash in and kick felt like it had to be frame perfect. It was nowhere close, but it felt that way. My sense of timing was still really coarse. The Divine Blade FRC was fast and it wouldn’t do a normal RC if I mistimed it like Baiken’s. I had to be perfect… and the jump install. the “6” the up motion during the kick… that took forever to actually do but I was hungry for I kept trying.
When Paul fell, Paul fell fast. Not for any lack of natural skill. To this day, Paul is a motherfucker who can find the cheapest shit in any game he plays… but because we were hungrier. The tides turned from Paul’s Zato can’t be beat to Paul’s Zato can’t win. The level of play of the whole group was elevating rapidly. I started switching characters to go easier on people, slowly learning the whole cast to some degree. I remember playing Dizzy against him for the first time and him getting ready to hurl a controller. “She’s already your best character!” She wasn’t, but it felt like that.
Eventually he quit. This made me sad… but at the same time I took perverse joy in it. I had gotten good at Guilty Gear out of spite and now it was with me for life. We were hungry.
Guilty Gear X2 Slash, Sticks, and my true entry into the FGC
Slash coming out represented a problem for me. The game didn’t have a PC version. But we all figured out swap magic and sometimes someone would lend me a PS2 to practice.
Back in the day, you couldn’t just pick up a ready to go arcade stick. Custom sticks were the cheap option back then compared to having to import a HRAP and then replace all its buttons. Ben and I got to wood working and soldering and managed to get two lovely sticks. Ben still uses his to this day.
Sometime into Slash I got a message on Dustloop from some guy named “LI Joe”. Slash had come out and he wanted to learn it. Came over with this giant tub of a stick. It was the official one that came with the Anniversary Collection of SF2. Joe, for not knowing Guilty Gear was pretty good! And he was friendly and nice and cool and everyone enjoyed being around him. Afterward he asked “You play anything else?” “Yeah, we’ve been messing with 3rd Strike”.
Long Island Joe’s Urien gave me a beating I have yet to experience again in any other game. I was laughing as he demolished me, throwing out Aegis Reflector combos like it was a combo video. Meeting Joe was super exciting and lead to me, months later, showing up at our locals at “Castle Golf”. I ended up running the Guilty Gear brackets and helping the event host “SweetJohnnyCage” (who eventually went on to host East Coast Throwdown) set up every month. At this point, I was… in the FGC. The little stories and friends I made at this point would be innumerable. I rarely traveled — to this day I’ve never been a major — but I’d still pop up in NY locals or Chinatown Fair all the time. Enough for footage of me to show up as “Melty Blood Aris” on one of Jiyuna’s recent videos (Disclaimer: I was there to play Akatsuki Blitzkampf).
Early Guilty Gear was a game of massive skill and knowledge disparity. While there were good US players, most of us were limited to playing only a hand full of friends and knowing only a few matchups. The #Reload netplay hack was a game changer for me and I was so happy it existed that I ended up modding the irc channel for quite some time. While the game was one (and soon, two) versions old, the experience of being able to play a wide variety of people online and play matches I never got to experience was huge and gave me an edge in local events. This wasn’t much use to the actual good players. They traveled and got quality experience in at majors — but for me, a local monster? It was a god send. Before Hotashi became a terrifying Elphelt in XRD, he was getting bullied for being a scrub on the #ReloadOnline IRC channel.
I started to feel good about how I played. I had a shot against most people I played. I wasn’t consistent enough to win highly contested tournaments, but I could be a threat against most people. At the same time, playing someone like Marlinpie still made me feel like I knew absolutely nothing. And this is the level I kinda stayed at for quite awhile(Heck, this might still be where I’m at now).
Accent Core, Blazblue SF4 and the Dark Period
Slash came and went and Accent Core took the spotlight. I kinda hated it at first (I loved Slash Johnny so much) but it felt like it was going to be the Super Turbo of Guilty Gear so I stuck with it. My friend group (Including the before mentioned Ben and Patito) would play pretty much every week for a few years. We’d jump to stuff — Meltyblood, Blitzkampf, KOF, Hokuto no Ken, Super Turbo, even Arcana Hearts for awhile — but Guilty Gear was always what we went back to. Eventually Blazblue came out and we were universally disappointed in it (It might be fine now but CT kiiiinda blew), but SF4, despite feeling like such a compromised game, struck a balance with everyone. I was never super serious in SF4. At this point I rarely went to locals anymore but I kept current with my friends. I couldn’t keep up the same energy, but as long as my friends could play, I was golden.
… Then, sometime around Ultra, Patito left. Patito, who could play with everyone and be a challenge for anyone, kept the groups interest in fighting games alive. Without Patito to bridge the gap between players, only Ben and I were left and well… the old men got tired. There was a few years there where we barely played anything at all.
+R, Xrd, IWBTG and the Second Dark Age
+R came out and I had no one to play with. Finally Accent Core was back and Johnny was extra cool and I was hungry again. I started going to locals again. LI Joe welcomed me back as if I was never gone. I bullied his Eddie. A good time was had by all. I road this for a year, playing and improving, going to locals again, doing all right for myself. I was pumped for Xrd, but when it came out and I played it, it… didn’t do it for me. It felt like +R but less. What’s worse, I had no main. No Johnny, no Baiken! I tried Sin, and he didn’t agree with me. Millia and I-no almost worked but at a certain point I decided the game wasn’t for me and +R was already dead. The second dark age was on me, but at least it wasn’t completely detached from the FGC.
IWBTG hit big on twitch around that time. Floe’s playthrough and me taunting him during it was magic. The IWBTGG run at EVO is honestly one of the highlights of my life. It felt nice to be attached to the FGC even when I wasn’t playing
Finding Sanity During Lockdown: How Rev2 Filled the Social Hole in my Life
A long time passed without a lot of fighting game fun to be had. Ben and I would play Super Turbo sometimes… sometimes we’d hop on GGPO to play some weird stuff. Basically 5 years of not really seriously playing. I generally hated netplay. I could tolerate it barely during #Reload but as time went on I just hated it. SF4 was miserable online and Guilty Gear seemed like it would be even worse.
But then during lockdown, Patito and a buddy picked up Xrd Rev 2 on sale and were playing it. I already decided I didn’t like Xrd but thinking about it… why not? I don’t know what the game feels like offline anymore. If I got it, I could maybe play and not hate everything. So around May I started going in hard, learning Johnny again. I never played Revelator but didn’t like what I read about how Johnny was handled. I would be excited to play a high tier, but he seemed too straight forward, getting re-coins and knockdowns off of every combo. I put a few months into him. I was having fun and playing online more, but it didn’t feel right.
I don’t have super crisp execution. I can do hard shit, but I’m sketchy. X2 Era Johnny was perfect for me. People would drop his stuff all the time, especially his ‘one hit ensengas’, which were like a trickshot knockdown. Perfect execution with X2 Johnny was aspirational. You went for stuff and if you fucked up, it was okay. Xrd Johnny felt like you had to be perfect. He was good BECAUSE he got everything EVERY TIME. I felt like I was failing the character. I was doing okay but it felt like a bad fit… so who to play?
I always dabbled with Sol. I loved doing dustloops. He was just a fun character to mess with… but I always said I didn’t ACTUALLY know how to play him. I could fool around, but I didn’t understand yet how to actually open people up with Sol… but I was watching DEB vs Marlinpie and the way DEB used Sol and set up frame traps and got huge pay off spoke to me on a deep level. So I started screwing around with him, and the character I skipped playing seriously in Xrd slowly morphed into my main. I’m a glutton who loves when big chunks of the life bar disappear, I can’t help it.
I started streaming again. Random lobbies are cold and kinda miserable. I wanted community. Just having a stream with people in chat saying ‘hey come play’ seemed like a super friendly way to meet new players. We started amassing regulars. Acquaintances started to show up to play who quickly became friends (Hi, Shay!). Then… new players start showing up. Hey, the IWBTG guy is probably nice to play with, right? So I start putting it out there that we have a good place for new players to learn. MORE people show up. Oh shit, we can run a beginner tournament… Oh god we have 100 people in our discord??? It’s amazing to play with close friends again. Patito fills the same role he did years ago. Ben is right back at it, pilebunkering the younger generation.
So somehow I stumbled into making a community. Somehow I stumbled into running online tournaments for new players. Somehow I’ve managed to tolerate delay based netcode because it lets me play people in a game they feel comfortable with. Having weekly streams has helped so much during COVID and creating a space that seems welcoming for not just new players, but queer and marginalized players has felt incredible. Not only am I playing to try and improve, I am playing to entertain and to help out others and am super proud of the little friendly spot I’ve built.
So after all this, how do I feel about Rev2? How do I feel about it, now that I can run off to +R with glorious Rollback Netcode? Well, two revisions did a lot for the game. While not as wild as +R, it feels wild in its own right. More importantly though, despite its annoyances, the RC system and generous buffer lets new players play the game without getting blocked out by FRCs. The game is fun like any other Guilty Gear, looks absolutely gorgeous and contains the players I want to play with. Everything else matters less, because at the heart of it, it’s still Guilty Gear.
Also I tend to play games for a character. +R gives me Johnny, while +R Sol doesn’t appeal to me as much. I get what I want in both games!
SO now it’s January 1st. I’ve run 3 beginner tournaments, a team fight, multiple show match cards and have one of the nicest, most fun Guilty Gear discords in existence. I’ll probably be trying to stick to Rev2 through Strive too. First release ASW games haven’t been kind to me, but at the same year once Strive has some time under it’s belt, maybe I’ll feel about it the same way I feel about Rev2 now.
Thank you everyone who has found themselves part of this community. I could write a whole article just on all of you but all I’ll say here is I’m happy to know all of you.
Happy 2021 everyone, lets get past COVID and play some Guilty Gear. This old man is washed up but isn’t willing to stop yet. Guilty Gear wasn’t my first fighting game, but it was my first love, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it now.