31 March 2011

The Exchange...[]

Just had the rather awkward experience of purchasing an item at the vending machine directly from the vendor...it was being re-stocked at the time. Curious how the typical method of purchase (at a store, e.g.) became unusual and clumsy...one becomes so used to making the exchange with a machine that human contact is unexpected and foreign. Modern society...


30 March 2011

The Block Button...[]

There is feature which has divided fighting games since the days of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat and which continues to divide them today. Seen in both 2D and 3D fighters, it is either hated or loved (or just accepted, but rigid dichotomies are so much more interesting!). It is the block button.

While offense is the only way to win in a fighting game, defense can never be ignored; it is central to any fighter's strategy. In many fighting games, defending against attacks is accomplished by holding the joystick/directional button away from the attacker, a tradition that goes all the way back to the original Street Fighter, if not earlier. However, games such as Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, and Soul Calibur use a separate button for blocking and defense-related techniques (such as Soul Calibur's parrying system, mastery of which separates the experienced from the rookies). Yet why have a separate button, when it seems so natural to use the joystick for defense?

One reason might be for mobility reasons. Soul Calibur uses an 8-way movement system with the joystick/directional buttons, making deft sidesteps easy to perform. Crouching must be done by holding down while pressing the Guard button, and similarly for jumping. But why? The Tekken series, for instance, seems to have no trouble combining a hold-back-to-block system with sidestepping (although in only four directions), and Virtua Fighter has both a block button and crouch-by-hold-down. There must be other reasons.

Parrying also comes to mind. In Soul Calibur, one can block a series of attacks and parry midway through the opponent's barrage to take the upper hand. Yet games such as Street Fighter III: Third Strike have parrying as well, using well-timed directional inputs (toward the attacker as opposed to away), and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has the Advancing Guard maneuver, which involves pressing two attack buttons while blocking to push the opponent away and avoid being trapped by a barrage of attacks.

When you get right down to it, what sense does it make to tie up a button when a directional input could do the same thing? Is it just to make the game system stand out among others? Certainly, Mortal Kombat had to do something to pull arcade-goers (an endangered species these days) away from Street Fighter. It can be something of a trip-up to go from playing a game like Tekken to one like Soul Calibur (especially when you're the one guy who plays the same character in both series), which has the potential to turn away players who might otherwise have gotten into the game.

Arguments can be made for either side; I personally like being able to press a button and know that I'm now entering a blocking state (except when I forget to block low), although force of habit often finds me holding back at the same time anyway. If nothing else, it makes for a more diverse cast of fighting game systems. If they were all the same, after all, playing one would be enough. What a horrible world that would be...


29 March 2011

From Ideas to Words...[]

My primary major as an undergraduate was Creative Writing; it stands to reason that I know a thing or two about writing. People often ask me if I'm going to write novels, etc., and I reply, "eventually." My primary focus in Creative Writing was poetry, however, although I do love novels and do actually plan to write a few (when I get around to it).

I have a lot of ideas in my head. I've formed a lot of characters in my mind, forged backstories and personalities and settings...and then I try to commit it to paper/computer text. Problems arise at this point.

My training in poetry (which has also informed my prose writing) has impressed upon me the importance of condensing concepts and images into as few words as possible, so to concentrate the effect. My writing tends, therefore, to be rather short, and one of my greatest challenges is in expanding my ideas such that they can fill the space required of a novel. Not with filler, but simply with more to read. A powerfully-worded poem can effect great emotional impact, but it cannot as easily convey the more mundane parts of a plot that tie all the great events together.

So that my writing skills do not atrophy, however, I do make every attempt to keep writing, whether it be blogging or freeform roleplaying or even writing process documentation.

In keeping with that idea, here's a small snippet I wrote and then expanded over my lunch break today:

The sky was a torrid slate, a torment in full fury, and the ground cried as each swollen raindrop fell like a blow upon its surface. JT the Ninja looked up, wiping the blinding precipitation from his eyes, so that he might see his opponent more clearly.

The looming figure seemed to rise as it walked toward him, a grim and menacing creature. It stank of death, the smell persisting even through the rain, and about its feet an opaque black fog hung, disturbed only by the creature's motion, for no wind would perturb it. Three glistening golden eyes burned from its forehead, and two wicked, curved horns erupted from its skull, curling backwards from its brow. Of its form besides little could be discerned, both due to the darkness of the storm and its charcoal flesh, which seemed to draw in what little light was around it into a gaping chasm in the shape of a hideous giant. "You shall not escape with your life this day," it shrieked at him, its voice otherworldly and terrible.

Adamant resolve coursing through his veins, the fearless ninja strengthened his stance and clenched his fists. Steam began to rise from his hands as the falling raindrops began to feel the heat of his growing ninja rage. "It is you who shall not escape today, demon," JT called out, his voice clear and cutting. A coursing bolt of lightning punctuated his reply. He unsheathed his ninja sword, the steel emanating a bright blue aura, and pointed it at his foe. "I have slain greater foes than you, spawn of evil," he declared. "You will be no different."

The demon laughed, and were his audience any other it would have caused chills of terror by it sound. "You are but one ninja," it sneered, baring its yellowed fangs and extending its cruel claws. "This fight shall be over far too quickly for me to enjoy."

No more words needed to be said. The two adversaries threw themselves into battle, steel clashing against demonclaw, their blows louder than the crashing thunder. At each pass, JT's blade turned aside his enemy's attack, but neither did his strikes find their target. As the battle waged on, however, the strength of both began to fail. The ninja's blade sliced deep into the monster's side as he passed under a heavy swipe, but the demon's claws dug into his back as he passed beneath them. As JT rolled to safety, the demon looked down at the shreds of bloodstained cloth now caught in his talons and smiled, letting the inky blood run freely from his wound.

The combatants stood apart for a moment, both now injured. JT dropped to one knee, wiping the rain from his ninja spectacles and holding his sword out in front of him in a defensive posture. It was all the encouragement the demon needed. His fell laughter cut through the night air. "It is no use, ninja," he spat. "I have slain more of your kind than I can remember." He had no warning that they would be his last words.

It was over almost as the demon finished his statement. Another blinding flash of lightning scarred the heavens, and in the next instant, the demon fell to the ground in quarters, the ninja blade having cut through its midsection from the front and cleaved it from bottom to top as its bearer turned to face it once more. Not even a death cry escaped from the demon as its essence evaporated into the night, its body disintegrating rapidly as the evil spirit was banished once again to the netherplane.

"As have I," JT whispered, standing over the vanishing corpse, the evil blood he had drawn burning along the length of his blade. The winds grew calm, and the night returned to tranquility. JT turned his gaze starward and leaped into the air, the night winds carrying him away, back to the hidden village that had lived so long in terror of the evil he had now vanquished.

Silly, I know, but nothing that keeps my creative muscles exercised is a bad thing.


28 March 2011

Where there's a will, there's a way...[]

Well, upon playing the Mortal Kombat demo, it became obvious that I would have to purchase a PS3 arcade stick. I decided this for a three reasons:

(1) I'd been meaning to for quite a while, as I do enjoy playing fighting games with the arcade stick; just a good feel to it;

(2) My PS2/Xbox/NGC arcade stick is not compatible with my PS3 for some reason, even with my USB adapter...no clue.

(3) The new MK game has a distinct use for all of the PS3 controller's buttons: the face buttons are front and back punch and kick, and the shoulder buttons all have unique and important functions. This wouldn't be so bad, except that some characters do have combos that require the simultaneous pressing of two face buttons, such as square+triangle, which is difficult (if not impossible) to do while holding the controller in the under-under position, as mentioned in my post about differences between game controllers. Therefore, it will be to my advantage to have an arcade stick layout, where all the buttons are more easily accessible.

All this is fine, except that – as those who have looked recently will know – it is incredibly hard to find a PS3 arcade stick in stores or online. There are generic arcade sticks out there, but I'm hesitant to trust something that looks too cheap. I'm also looking for one that has fighting game graphic decals, like the special edition controllers shipped with special editions of Tekken 6, Street Fighter IV, etc.

I managed to find a Tekken 6 arcade stick on eBay, for a decent price, and put a maximum bid of $50 on it...I was outbid too late for me to counter...happens far too often. Other ones I found on eBay were upwards of $100 or even $200, so I was a bit disheartened, until I saw that Amazon.com has the Tekken 6 arcade stick bundle (game + special edition arcade stick + some special pictures, or something), which I had passed on initially due to price ($150 as I recall), for a mere $72 ($80 with shipping). Problem solved, and I can sell back the extra game at The Exchange to make it even better of a deal.

There's always a way...it's the Internet.


26 March 2011

Seriously? An Xbox 360 controller for PS3? Why? []

EDIT: See my post comparing the DualShock controller to the Xbox/360 controller for why this makes me so irate...[]

Saturday Morning Gaming...[]

Had the urge to play Super Street Fighter IV again this morning. I always feel bad about abandoning a game, so I like to revisit old favourites every so often. Still a lot of fun to play.

Also, the Dreamcast arcade stick I won on eBay arrived yesterday, so I played some Project Justice this morning as well. Wish they'd make a third game in that series. Still hoping... 


25 March 2011

Mortal Kombat Kratos Gameplay Trailer (PS3)..[]

Quite a bit different from his appearance in Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny. I like how they included the quick-time events from his home series.

(via Gamespot's YouTube channel)

24 March 2011

Speaking the Common Tongue...[]

I had an interesting thought yesterday, in the form of a sudden realization: there is a new language being used today, and I have already become fluent in it.

Perhaps I should be more specific: it is not, I think, a fully-formed, independent tongue, although some might argue that it does have its own grammar, morphology, etc. It is not the mother-tongue of any one or any group (to my knowledge). Perhaps a better classification, then, would be that of a pidgin or jargon.

By now, you may have guessed my subject. It is, for now, a nameless speech, and I cannot come up with a suitable one, but its components are cultural references and memes. That is, cultural references and memes not used in ordinary speech, but as ordinary speech.

The subject of memes, and Internet memes especially, is not a new one, but I've come to the realization that the appearance of such references in speech has developed to the point where I can have entire conversations nearly devoid of anything but references (similar to, but not exactly like, the game where two people speak only in song titles/lyrics). It's not uncommon, in addition, for me to replace a common phrase with a quote from a movie, song, etc. or with a meme reference (Instead of saying, "You're not getting through here!" it's "You shall not PASS!" and instead of "There are a ton of these" it's "Over nine thousand!"). I'm really only putting out my very tentative thoughts on the subject in this post, so don't expect a lot of expounding and analysis. This one's going to take a while to puzzle out completely.

What particularly struck me about this use of cultural references as speech is that this kind of language transformation was predicted by an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled "Darmok." In it, the crew of the Enterprise must deal with the Tamarian language, which has become so reliant on cultural references (they use the term "metaphor") that understanding it is impossible without first understanding the references. The individual words spoken do not matter as much as the clusters of references, understood as a single unit. The same kind of usage is visible on message boards and blogs net-wide. The words, and even the structure, of a phrase such as "I believe you have my stapler" or "Mission accepted" does not give a hearer the full understanding of the message being conveyed unless the references are also understood.

How far away, then, are we from speaking as the Tamarians? Significantly distant, I think, as most speakers of the referential tongue are also conversant (to a degree) in "normal" speech. Still...makes one wonder. Only you can decide for yourself...don't take my word for it. The power is yours.


22 March 2011

Font geekery...[]

Almost forgot to blog today...

Little known fact: ninjas like awesome fonts. Also, fonts that ninjas like are awesome. Obscure fact (you've probably never heard of it), but true.

I'm actually one of the few people I know who regularly buys fonts for his own personal use (ninjas never pirate!). I've had to exercise restraint on a number of occasions (such as when the latest MyFonts or FontShop newsletters hit my inbox, but there've been times I've spent quite a bit on a new font. I especially like fonts that I can see myself using and using frequently, whether for my own personal projects or for the occasional intra-office memo.

I caught the font bug several years back. The Language Construction Kit, besides launching me into a conlanging hobby, gave me the bright idea to find a font designer demo and make fonts for my constructed languages. Very primitive, but all the same they gave me new respect for font designers.

I guess you could say I'm really into letterforms; I'll often spend hours thinking up and practicing cursive styles or sketching out an alphabet based on a vague notion. Just feels good.

Then again, I'm also the only person I know who owns an official Museo t-shirt...


Yeah...enough geekery for now; look for a new post tomorrow, likely about fighting games.


21 March 2011

Not the Best of Times...[]

You've got to love the change of seasons. The weather's getting warmer, the sun's out more often, and the allergies leap to life. Haven't had a decent night's sleep in a couple days now due to a nasty cough...I'm a ninja, though, so I survive.

Really need to work more on MvC3 combos. I have a friend who's a tournament-level player who nonetheless spars with me on occasion, and I enjoy it, even though I almost never win. For me, it's about the fun of playing more than winning (although winning always feels good!).

I'm going to force myself to keep posting at least once a day (except Sundays); maybe I'll even get more readers...


19 March 2011

Fixed my old ps2/xbox/ngc arcade stick...all I needed to do was figure except I've lost the manual...got it though...[]

17 March 2011

Interesting juxtapositions...[]

Downloaded the Mortal Kombat demo today...played it for a few minutes, until it was time to turn on The Joy of Painting...

GET OVER HERE! And paint some happy little trees! []

16 March 2011

Impressive 2D Graphics...[]

In an earlier blog post, I mentioned an upcoming 2D fighting game, Skull Girls, on which I'm definitely keeping an eye. You can find the official website here. Three new exhibition videos were recently posted, and the webmaster of The Fighters Generation has compiled them into a handy one-page gallery. If you're at all interested in fighting games, you should check out these videos. I can honestly say I've never seen a 2D fighter with graphics that look quite as good as this, not just in terms of fluid animation but in terms of style. The character sprites are based on the artwork of Alex Ahad, who apparently worked on the Scott Pilgrim comics (guest comics, it seems, from the Wikipedia page), and it shows. The style is brilliant and unique (at least in fighting games); the characters really come "alive" on the screen and the movesets of each character are quite varied and creative.

This goes back a bit to my discussion of 2D vs. 3D fighting games, but I really do feel that one of the strengths of true 2D fighters (not the grey area of 3D models fighting on a flat plane) is the amount of care and character that can be put into each character's motion. I'm not saying that 3D models can't be expressive – certainly the outstanding 3D fighting games have memorable moves and characters with their own idiosyncrasies – but because 2D fighting game sprites are hand-drawn, frame by frame (despite the claims of my friend who favors 3D fighters that they "only animate the key poses and use the computer to do the in-betweens"), there is just so much more opportunity for artists to put in personal touches that bring the characters to life. I'm not saying that all 2D games do this (or do it well), but the outstanding 2D fighters are known and loved for it.

I think what impresses me most about Skull Girls is that it just flat-out doesn't look like every other fighting game out there. For one, it's North American-born, which is always refreshing to see. For another, even though it's possible to see a definite anime/manga influence on the character design, it is very decidedly not another manga fighter (cf. Arcana Heart, BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, etc.). For a third, it is clear that the designers are heavily leveraging the computing power of current-gen systems to make the multi-pane 2D worlds fit together and look smooth (I didn't notice any jagged edges, although that could just be the video quality), without relying on 3D-model backdrops (e.g. BlazBlue, Capcom vs. SNK 2). The whole composition is really attractive, and the only thing that currently disappoints is the background music, which I really do hope they improve. Really looking forward to this game.

In other news, I plan to claim my Jill/Shuma-Gorath DLC for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 soon, as well as picking up the demo of the upcoming Mortal Kombat game...all while working my way through Atlas Shrugged again and considering other books for filling my Kindle. Oh yeah...and the job thing...being a ninja is tough work.

EDIT: Renamed the blog slightly today...keeping it simple.


15 March 2011

CSS and Frustration...[]

So I'm an old-school website designer. I write my website in Notepad and often upload files through the command prompt FTP program. Simple. Easy. Works for me.

Doesn't mean I only do old-school HTML though. I love CSS. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets for those not in the know) is a method of designing which allows one to create a palette of styles to create a uniform look. It means that I don't have to specify style attributes for each element within the page, and it means that I can do fancy tricks like image positioning, fancy links, and other fine tuning to make the page look exactly as I want. I also maintain my CSS stylesheets as separate files, referenced within each page both to save file size and to avoid copying, pasting, and maintaining each page's styles separately. I highly recommend the W3Schools tutorials.

With great power comes great frustration, however. Today for example, I redesigned the navigation bar on my website, changing from a flat panel with links to buttons.

First, I created simple buttons in Photoshop using an inner glow to separate it from the background. I created two sizes – one for the header and one for the entries – and used these as background images for the various elements: <h1>, <h3>, <a>. Simple enough, right?

No, not really. Browsers automatically put white space after the end of headers and paragraphs, and the formatting can be slightly different in each browser. Furthermore, this trailing space can't be controlled via CSS. Solution? I made use of CSS classes applied to <span> tags, which don't have an automatic line break afterward and hence don't run into that same formatting issue.

Okay, that done...however, I still had to get them to display properly. First, I had to make sure I was using the proper font size, which took a few adjustments. Secondly, I had to find a way to make the "button" display completely. By default, text, links, and even spans only take up as much space as necessary to display their characters. Manually adding trailing spaces would be difficult, messy, and wouldn't completely work. Had to find another way.

Solution: the CSS "display" property. This property tells the browser how to display an object. The common options are "inline," which makes it display pretty much the way a <span> tag would display anyway, or "block," which makes it display somewhat like a <p>, or paragraph, tag, with space afterward, etc, and also forces it to fill up its line. This latter one would ensure that the whole "button" displayed, but I didn't want the white space afterward (I was going for a connected look). Classic trade-off, or so I thought.

Fortunately, it turns out (as you will see if you follow the link at the beginning of the previous paragraph) that there are other options, among which is "inline-block," which combines the lack of extra space of the "inline" version with the line filling of the "block" version. Took me quite a while to figure it out, but I was glad I did. I had tried everything I could think of, from fiddling with the line height to changing the dimensions, but nothing worked. This was but one of many times the W3Schools site has helped me out of a jam.

While I was working on getting the buttons to display properly, I ran up against some trouble with the links themselves. In CSS, you can define different properties for normal links, visited links, links when the mouse is placed over them, and links when they are clicked. I had initially set every property for each of these individually, since the old design was more text- than image-based, and had fewer settings to manage. As I added on more properties (height, width, background image, etc.), it became more and more cumbersome to change them individually, so I moved all of the properties that would remain the same for all of them to a style which would be applied to links overall.

At the same time, I realized that it was probably a mistake to use the <a> (hyperlink) tag as the button building block, since I now have an icon next to the "Blog" link which leads to the RSS feed, and I need them on the same line. So I took all the block-level formatting (background image, display style, etc.) and set them under a CSS class which I'd apply to <span> tags. Quick fix.

Since I wanted to retain the effect of links inverting colors when the cursor is placed over them, I created inverted buttons. In the old days, this would have to be done with a JavaScript onMouseOver() function, but CSS provides an alternative (thankfully, as I've forgotten more JavaScript than I think I ever learned): the pseudo-class that defines styles for hyperlinks on mouse hover can be applied to any element. Furthermore, classes and pseudo-classes can be nested (I'd done so already to make sure that these styles would only apply to elements within the navigation bar, which is a <div> tag with a special CSS class), so I set up the stylesheet such that elements in the "link" class in the navigation bar, when hovered over with the cursor, have the inverted button as the background image.

I still wasn't done yet, of course. since the mouseover change was conditioned on the cursor being over the <span>, not the hyperlink, it would display properly only when the cursor was directly over the link (the link text would disappear if the cursor was not directly over it, being black text on a black background...this caused double trouble for the Blog link and RSS feed icon). Adding a text-color property in addition to the inverted background image wouldn't solve it, as text color is separate from link color. I had to go a level deeper and create another sub-sub-sub class (I may have one too many subs in there) for links (<a> tag) under the hover pseudo-class, under the link span class, under the navigation bar class. A bit like Inception.

Anyway, it was a fun adventure which no doubt improved my skills, but there was constant testing and re-testing, which was an aggravation. I also probably should have tested on my local version of the files instead of uploading to the server each time, but due to my webfont installation, the fonts don't display properly when viewed as local files. I could also make up an excuse that I just like the whole world to see my creative process, but likely as not it went un-noticed by anybody but me.


14 March 2011

On Game Controllers

So let's get this straight from the outset here: in the great battle between the current generation of video game consoles, I'm firmly in the PS3 camp (although I do still have an XBL gamertag, but that's beside the point).

The first console I ever got was the PS2 (15th birthday), and during that gen I also got the GameCube and then the Xbox (mostly so I could get all three versions of Soul Calibur II). My PS2 was my family's first DVD player (much like my PS3 is now the family Blu-ray player), and it still works perfectly, despite it now being ten years old (say that about any piece of modern technology, and you know you've got a winner). For me, there really wasn't much of a decision as to whether I would go PS3 or 360; I was always going to go with the PS3, although it took me until last year to be able to purchase one. I've played on both the 360 and the Wii with friends, and have enjoyed them both, but when it came down to buying one for myself, I knew the PS3 would be the answer.

Important note: everything from here on down is largely my own personal opinion.

Why? Put simply, it's because I'm a fighting gamer. Fighting gamers gravitate toward the PS2/PS3 for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are more titles to choose from, although a lot of the formerly Playstation exclusive series (Tekken comes to mind) are no longer so. There are notable Xbox-only exceptions: Dead or Alive (although with the 3DS version it's no longer Xbox exclusive), Samurai Spirits Sen (disappointment and not missing it at all), Tao Feng (flop of a failure by former Mortal Kombat people, played the demo and wished I hadn't), and the online version of NeoGeo Battle Coliseum (first released for PS2...would have preferred that over the NeoGeo Station, but I still have hope), to name...all I can think of at the moment. Even so, the history is behind the Playstation for fighters, especially with the long list of port compilation titles released in the waning days of the PS2.

On top of that, there's the issue of the controllers...ah, here at last we come to the post topic. I contend very strongly that the DualShock line of controllers, in use from the PS1 through the PS3, is the superior controller, especially for the fighting gamer.

Let's look at the competition:

Exhibit A: Original Xbox

Original Xbox controllers. Source: Wikipedia

Insert jokes about t3h hug3 ecksbawks contrlolr lolz here at the beginning just so we can get past them and move forward. Instead, let's analyze:

Face buttons: The first series had six face buttons of oblong shape and arranged in a rather awkward pattern on the highly convex controller. The later versions weren't much better, although the rounder buttons in the more "Playstation-like" layout did make it easier to use. Still no easier to use the black and white buttons, of course (although third party controllers did sometimes have these two buttons as "shoulder buttons," much like the L1/R1 buttons on the DualShock. The highly convex face and raised, rounded buttons means that an individual button can be pressed relatively easily, but combinations (X+A or Y+B, etc) become quite hard marginally more difficult to do, and the large shape almost forces one to hold the controller in the double-under position, with both hands underneath the controller, which again hampers button combinations (more on that later...just bear with me). Oh, and also, with the newer version it's very possible to hit the black & white buttons accidentally if you grip too hard with your right hand.

Shoulder buttons/triggers: Two triggers, located underneath. Again, forces the user into a set grip, which isn't always optimal. Still, they work pretty well for shooters...

D-Pad: Horrible. Okay, maybe that's too strong. It's not as bad as, say, the GameCube's d-pad, or the Dreamcast's d-pad...but still, it's small and cramped in down at the bottom.

Analog sticks: I find the position of the Xbox controller's two analog sticks quite interesting. They had a job to do differentiating themselves from the DualShock, and one of the major differences is that their analog sticks are not parallel, like on the DualShock, but with the left near the top outer edge and the right near the bottom center. Very different feel, but for games that rely a lot of analog stick movements (say, to aim the crosshairs for a FPS game), it's very handy to have the left analog stick, which is standard for movement (since the other hand's using the face buttons for action functions), easily accessible near the top. The controller's grip design puts your thumb more or less right on top of it, so there's little wasted effort. Also, in situations where you're using both analog sticks, there's much less chance of becoming thumb-tied, since they're in two very separated positions. Good design, but for fighting gamers the D-pad is the better choice for fine control, since a good d-pad is faster and more accurate than a thumbstick (although an arcade joystick, held with the whole hand, is also very accurate).

Exhibit B: Xbox 360

Xbox 360 controller. Source: Wikipedia

This design is so much cleaner than the original Xbox controller design that I'm going to have less to say; I really do like this controller, but I still believe the DualShock is better.

Face buttons: Pretty much the same as the second version of the original Xbox controller, minus the black and white buttons. The buttons themselves are also now on a more level surface, and still, like the original, more raised than on the DualShock, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your viewpoint and your situation. On the one hand, it makes them easier to feel when you're playing and looking at the screen, rather than your hands. The other hand really comes from the fact that they're convex, not flat like on the DualShock. It's easier to half-press a convex button, and one's can more easily slip (Note: "more easily" does not mean that it happens all the time).

Shoulder Buttons/Triggers: The black and white buttons are gone, having morphed into the shoulder buttons, located above the triggers (much like L1/L2 and R1/R2, although to be fair, the Xbox had the button/trigger combo before the PS3). I like this configuration; much more sensible now, and makes it actually possible to use the 5th and 6th buttons, as opposed to having them squeezed onto the face. As always, the triggers make it very good for shooting.

D-pad: Same story, bro...I never found much change in feel between the Xbox and 360 D-pad. If anything, the leap backward to a single-piece D-pad is a bad thing.

Analog sticks: Really same story...just see above.

Exhibit C: Nintendo Wii

Okay no...no, the only Wii exclusive fighting game is Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, which was basically thrown as a bone to them so they could have a decent fighting game...still hoping it gets ported to PS3. Also, when playing games like Smash Bros (not a fighting game!) on the Wii, I found it much preferable to plug in a GameCube controller. That's right...I'd rather take a step back to the GameCube controller than use the Wiimote/Nunchaku. Don't own a Playstation Move, not really planning to get one. Sixaxis for the win, but pointing a Wiimote for the awkward.

Now, finally, for the DualShock:

Exhibit D for DualShock 1,2,3

DualShock 1. Source: Wikipedia DualShock 2. Source: Wikipedia DualShock 3. Source: Wikipedia

I mean, I really don't have to say much. This is a tried and true design. The only major changes were with the DS3 to give it Sixaxis functionality, triggers instead of buttons for L2/R2, and the PS button in the middle. But, because I'm making a comparison, here's the run-down:

Face buttons: This is by now a classic. Square, Triangle, X, Circle. The iconic button set for the Playstation controller has mostly-flat buttons placed in a cross/diamond arrangement, far enough apart to avoid accidental button presses but close enough to facilitate both rapid movement from one button to the next but also button combinations. These have not really changed or needed to change since the original Playstation controller (which was without analog sticks) and the Dual Analog controller (which lacked rumble capability). Their smooth, flat surfaces make them very good for fighting games, being well suited to agile and quick movements. It's worth noting that the Xbox controller design started off very different but gradually changed to an almost identical button configuration. Really not much else to say here.

Shoulder buttons/triggers: Also classic, these buttons fit right underneath the index and middle fingers, allowing for easy access (although you can also just use your index finger for both upper and lower). The trigger version of L2/R2 with the DS3 takes a bit of getting used to at first, but it adds the capability for designers to set up control schemes such that holding the trigger halfway does one thing, and holding it all the way does another.

D-pad: The Playstation D-pad, while it's certainly not perfect, is pretty close in my opinion. The separate directional buttons, while they may seem at first awkward, actually make it more accurate, and it's really no more difficult to do diagonal directions than with another controller. Quick, precise movements on the d-pad are very important to a fighting gamer (try doing Geese's Raising A Storm motion on another d-pad...it's madness). The DualShock d-pad is big and accessible, right under the player's thumb.

Analog sticks: This is what separated the Dual Analog and DualShock series from the original PS controller. The Analog sticks also function as L3 and R3 buttons when pressed in (a feature shared by Xbox controllers, but which the DualShock had first), and the "cup" in the middle of the analog sticks holds the player's thumb steady very well. I personally prefer the DualShock's analog sticks over the Xbox/360's any day. They just feel better. The DS2 also made them more accurate, which, although fighting games rarely require them, can be all-important in other genres.

So I promised to talk about the "under-under" position earlier. For a lot of games, you really only need to hold the controller in the way that seems natural, with both palms supporting the controller from underneath. However, with fighting games, one often must press two or more of the face buttons together, which can be awkward, if not impossible, while holding the controller in this manner. A lot of fighting gamers (myself included) thus use what I'm calling the "under-over" position, with the left hand as normal but the right hand held on top of the controller, using the thumb to hook under the right handgrip for support. In this way, the fingers can easily access all four face buttons in any combination much more easily. With the DualShock controller, this is pretty trivial; the shape of the handgrips allows the thumb to hook under it easily. With the Xbox controllers...it's possible, but not as much, especially with older models that have a more convex face shape. The handgrips flow more smoothly into the center of the controller, which can hinder holding the controller in this way.

Let me throw out some overused, clichè buzz-words: all in all, at the end of the day, in summation, in conclusion, it just goes to show that, so we can clearly see. Now let me start to wrap up this incredibly long post. I'm not saying that the Xbox controllers are horrible. They're good at what they do. For all the FPS-ers out there who need fine control, the Xbox control is very good (although I never really got the hang of it). For all those action-adventurers who just need two analog sticks and some action buttons...they're about mixed. For fighting gamers, it's really all about the DualShock.


P.S. You'll notice I didn't say anything about the rumble feature...I never use it. Just a distraction.

11 March 2011

Thursdays, Tekken, and Coincidental Languages...[]

Well, I've just finished One of Our Thursdays Is Missing. I can say confidently that fans of the series will be thoroughly pleased all the way through, except possibly at the end, for two reasons: (1) it means that the book is over and a new waiting cycle has begun, and (2) there is a slight feeling of being rushed, although given some of the plot concepts it does sort of work in the book's favour. Don't want to spoil anything, so I'll leave it at that. Series highly recommended, but best to start at the beginning with The Eyre Affair, and to beware of misleading titles (Thursday Next: First Among Sequels is not the second book, but the fifth).

So more on fighting games. I was speaking with a friend of mine who prefers 3D games and — to put it mildly — disprefers 2D games. Again, he makes some compelling arguments, and his personal preference is his own, but one of his points did strike me as interesting. I noted that while there are still more traditional 2D fighters with hand-drawn sprites being made, and as I mentioned in a recent post, Street Fighter 4 revitalized the subgenre of 2D fighting games with 3D models. His retort was that the same thing could be found in Tekken 2 and earlier (Tekken 3 was the iteration of the series that introduced the sidestep, and more realistic jumping height).

That's a good point. While Tekken 3 (1997)was not the first 3D fighter with a sidestep — Battle Arena Toshinden (1994), Soul Edge, Virtua Fighter 3, and even Tobal No. 1 (all 1996) preceded it — there was still a considerable span where the typical "3D" fighter still only allowed 2D movement. This, I think, makes one wonder what the definition of "3D" vs. "2D" is. It's not a trivial question; one can simply redefine "3D" as any game with the ability to sidestep or side-walk, but then you can no longer point to Virtua Fighter as the first 3D fighting game. Do we really want that honor to go to Battle Arena Toshinden? </sarcasm> The other option is to keep the definition the way it is, but then do we have to redefine the likes of Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3?

I'm just going to leave it as a puzzle for now, as I'm still sorting it out in my own head.

Anyway, I put "Coincidental Languages" up there in the title because I had an interesting idea creep into my mind during lunch. The best place to start would be a confession: I'm a conlanger. I like creating languages, and I make no apologies for it. My second major in college was Linguistics, largely for that reason (but also because linguistics is fascinating). Several of my favourite linguistics classes (primarily 76-457 Historical Linguistics, taught by Dr. Paul Hopper) focused on the development of languages over time, which has always struck me as the most intriguing part of the study of linguistics. I like to get into the workings of things and see how they fit together, how they came about ("How It's Made" marathons make me lose whole days).

So anyway, back to "Coincidental Languages." I had the vague notion of creating two parallel language family trees, completely unrelated to each other, that nonetheless produced two great-great-granddaughter languages who would be close enough in morphology and syntax to be mutually intelligible. Yes, inspired by a Simpsons episode (which oddly enough, I've only read about and never seen...but that's another story), but still...would like to try or see done sometime in the near future.

So, in other news, I have a black belt recertification test tomorrow at 4:00pm. Not too pleased that they moved it from the typical morning time to the afternoon/evening, but I'll survive.


10 March 2011

Arby's always hits the spot...just wish they'd bring back homestyle fries...[]

09 March 2011

2D vs 3D...[]

So I'm the type of fighting gamer who splits the 2D-3D divide. I'll play Street Fighter or King of Fighters as soon as Tekken or Soul Calibur. There are those who only play one or the other, and I respect their opinions. However, I find enough depth in either style to satisfy me (pun severely intended).

My friends who play solely 3D fighters are of the viewpoint that the extra dimension allows for a more in-depth, realistic experience. To a point, this is true; most people can't jump twice their body height, and linear footwork almost never happens in a real fight. However, anyone who's played Soul Calibur, for instance, knows that there can't really be any claim to realism, as characters who are hit by swords, axes, etc. don't even bleed, much less lose limbs. Even Tekken has its glaring moments of hypo-realism, as gameplay often revolves around juggling the opponent's body in mid-air, which can be accomplished with something as simple as a jab.

Come to think of it, that brings up another weakness of the 3D genre, which isn't so much a genre weakness but a market weakness. While the 2D fighting scene has several Capcom series (including the Vs. series with Marvel, SNK, and Tatsunoko), at least one currently-running SNK series (King of Fighters XIII will hopefully make it to console soon), and now even several Arcsys series running (Guilty Gear, BlazBlue), along with any number of other companies entering into the fray (I don't care what anyone says, Battle Fantasia was fun), the 3D fighting scene, at least here in the States, is Tekken, Soul Calibur, Virtua Fighter, and Dead or Alive. Half of that is from a single company, and the other two have only made lackluster appearances of late (DoA's Xbox exclusivity is a real drag, since the Xbox controller is just not made for fighting games, and Virtua Fighter 5 made the "bold" move of going to the then-new generation of consoles without an online multiplayer mode). Even Mortal Kombat has jumped the 3D ship and is returning to its 2D roots. Street Fighter 4's popularity has opened the door for 2D fighters with 3D character models to return (Street Fighter EX3 tried, but couldn't quite make it, and King of Fighters Maximum Impact/2006 didn't go far either) with a vengeance. So really, there's just a dearth of variety, compared to the 2D scene.

I also counter the argument that 2D fighters are lacking a dimension compared to 3D fighters, since they do have a "third" dimension which isn't used much by 3D fighters: height. In 3D fighters, characters move forward, backward, and to the side. In 2D fighters, characters move forward, backward...and upward. Jumping is vastly more important in 2D fighters than in 3D fighters, whose characters hardly ever jump more than a few feet from the ground (again, realism).

I guess my overall point is that I'm a fighting game fan, pure and simple. If it's a quality fighter, 2D or 3D, I'll play it.


08 March 2011


Just realized that I had previously ordered the book from BarnesandNoble.com...well, no such thing as too many books.


Once Again into BookWorld! []

Today is a day for which I have been waiting for quite some time. Today is the US release of One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, the sixth book in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. This series is basically crack for book nerds, among whose company I count myself, and from what I've read of OoOTIM, it's only getting better.

Seriously. If you love books, are an English major/recovering English major, or just generally enjoy a good read, pick up this series, starting with The Eyre Affair.

This is also somewhat of a momentous day, as it marks the first time I've bought a book on release day through Kindle. Had it pre-ordered to be delivered via WhisperNet. Admittedly, this was pretty much unnecessary, as it's hard to run short of digital books, but I did it anyway.

Also, for those who have been following the series, things have changed. Right from the first couple pages, things have changed. This will eventually have to affect the BookWorld RPG I've been running with some friends, but probably not for the current mission, since I think I'm the only one who's current on the series.

In other news, this means I'm going to have to put Atlas Shrugged on hold, yet again...ah well, it's on my Kindle, so I can get back to it whenever and not have lost my place.


07 March 2011

29 degrees (fahrenheit) but sunny...I can live with that...[]

05 March 2011

'Nother news flash: Just picked up a copy of Ehrgeiz at The Exchange...have wanted to play that game for a LONG time. []
News flash: Cherry Dr. Pepper is pretty good. []

Snow Tubing and Mortal Kombat ...[]

Well...so I went snow tubing last night with some friends. That was...an experience, and one I hope to repeat. Also, late-night Eat 'n' Park is the best kind of Eat 'n' Park.

Also found time to check in on new Mortal Kombat 9 footage (see link). It's weird that I'm actually excited about an MK release, but there you have it.

More to come later today...must be off now (ninja stuff)


04 March 2011

Am going to teach myself a programming language called Ruby...must be crazy. []
Note: Breakfast is the most important meal of a ninja's day...[]

03 March 2011

Just thinking...[]

So yeah...I need to practice blocking low still...and breaking throws...would make playing Tekken 6 a lot easier. Especially since my main (in both Tekken and Soul Calibur) is Yoshimitsu.

I've toyed with the idea of starting a web-based show wherein I discuss, critique, and generally rant about fighting games. Would be interesting, at least for me to produce. I'd need equipment, but this is eminently procurable. Given my extensive collection of fighting games, I'd have enough material for the first season already at hand.

Why fighting games? Why not? I've always had an affinity for fighting games, ever since I was a young lad, when my typical experience with video games was pretending to play the arcade machines at the movie theater because I was never allowed any money to play for real. Always found myself gravitating toward the fighting games. I distinctly recall one time when I was "playing" at Tekken 2 cabinet. How do I know it was Tekken 2? It was too early for Tekken Tag, by several years, and Roger was a playable character. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Anyway, just some thoughts.


So, Getting Started ...[]

Okay, so first post is out of the way; now here's where I talk about myself a little more.

It's not easy being a ninja in the modern world. Certain biological and societal necessities require that I maintain employment as well as some measure of contact with humans other than, you know...ninja. I survive, however. Ninjas are by very nature adept at adaptation.

So...fighting games. Playing Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as often as possible, although tonight is a dedicated Tekken 6 night. This year does seem to be good for fighting games, with Mortal Kombat coming out next month (really need to pre-order that already!), Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (in arcades, at least, which means none for me, due to the dearth, if not absolute lack, of arcades and arcades with new fighting games in my area), and several others.

In particular, I'm looking at Skull Girls, which is coming to PSN this summer. The 2D fighting genre has experienced a bit of a renewal lately, but most of the development is still overseas. It's nice to see a stateside company (that isn't Midway) having a go at it. Reminds me a bit of the Arcana Heart series (which is also seeing a US PSN release this year, but that's another story), but it looks original enough in its own right.

So yeah...here's to this year. I will be attempting to post at least something every day, so stay tuned.


02 March 2011

Testing! If you are reading this, it means I can now post from my phone. Excellent. []

Enter the Ninja ..[]

Greetings. I am JT the Ninja, master of being a ninja and host of this blog.

I'll be posting here on a number of subjects, from ninjas to linguistics to politics to daily life. Stay tuned.

Please visit my site, www.JTtheNinja.com, where you will find more information about me, etc.