John Robert Alspaugh's Personal Blog

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One Sentence Reviews: Doctor Who - Deep Breath

I AM THE DOCTOR!!!!

This concludes

One Sentence Reviews

I’m not really big on picking favorites but……… 

In some cases, I can’t help but acknowledge that some things are simply the best. 

And now, one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing and seeing live has returned. 

I…… Just listen to this…. 

Where do we go from here - Soul Calibur

Before we begin, I would again like to apologize for the lateness of this article. I know I said I would do it two weeks ago, but things happened. Full story in my previous post. 

But yes with that out of the way lets get rolling. 

For this first issue of Where do we go from here we’re going to look at a series that I’ve been wanting to discuss for a while, Namco’s Soul series, better known as Soul Calibur (which I swear to god they are misspelling “Caliber” on purpose now since its been six games and they still haven’t corrected it) in recent times. 

Originally starting out as Soul Edge (Soul Blade in Europe) back in 1996, the Soul series, developed by Project Soul and published by Namco, started and has to this day continued a long tradition of basically being Tekken with swords. 

No, really, thats what it is. Think about it, same publisher, same basic gameplay. Tekken was one of the first fighting games to utilize a full 3D environment, and likewise, Soul Caliber (I’m going to keep spelling it like that for the sake of proper grammar) is at its very core, the same type of game, but instead of fists, the characters in the game fight with swords. 

This isn’t a bad thing at all per se, its just what it is. Just like how an Orca is black and white and how rabbits are good at multiplication. Nothing wrong with that, its just how they are. 

Anyways, moving on. 

My own experience with the series began with Soul Caliber 2 on the gamecube way back in 2002. My initial reaction to which was, as I imagine, the same as pretty much everybody who saw the promotional photos when they were first released. 

"HOLY S*** LINK IS IN THIS!!!!!!!" 

And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Since then I’ve kept an eye on the series, as I still do this day regard Soul Caliber 2 as a hidden gem among fighting games. It was fast paced, fun, and despite some balancing issues here and there, was still fun as hell to play through and full of memorable characters. Also the opening theme music was epic as all hell. 

But why is it a hidden gem you ask, loyal fans of the series? Well, its because of the recent decline of quality in the recent games, I’m afraid that there is a tendency for some to overlook SC2, and most friends I talk to who were also fans of SC2 back when it came out forget that it even existed until I bring it up and then they’re like “Oh yeah, I remember that game.” 

That decline in quality is what we’re here to talk about. 

Starting with Soul Caliber 3 back in 2005, the series has experienced a rather rapid decline in quality with each new installment. 

Soul Caliber 3 in particular had terrible balancing issues as it was practically impossible for some characters to be other and the number of exploits that could be… well, exploited, was too many. 

Then Soul Caliber 4 came around in 2008, and as Yhatzee said in his Zero Punctuation review (look it up), even to a loyal fan of the series such as myself, it just wasn’t as much fun anymore. 

Then in 2012, Soul Caliber 5 came around………. WHERE DO I BEGIN….. 

Technical issues aside, part of the problem is the story, as there doesn’t seem to be one. 

Soul Caliber 2 barely had any semblance of a story. There was the arcade mode, which had the player go through 6 random battles before a rival battle, and then the final boss at the end. There was also some kind of journey… mode… thing, I’m not sure how to describe it, even now, where you made a profile, then just went through a bunch of missions that appeared as you beat them and followed some kind of path. There was some kind of story in there, but only if you wanted to read immense amounts of text, and even then, it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. 

Soul Caliber 3 also had arcade mode, and was also the first game of the series to introduce a character creation mode. With this though also came the “Chronicles of the Sword” mode, which took your custom made character through its own story in which one of the established characters show up, which was fun for a while, but with balancing issues and all, it was more trouble than it was worth. Especially when the only rewards were more customization options. As far as story with the main characters however… well, it did introduce the concept of picking a character, and then choosing your own path as you progressed through it. Essentially it was just arcade mode, but you got to choose your fights. They all ended in the same place though, so essentially it was pointless. 

Soul Caliber 4…. Soul Caliber 4 completely ditched any idea of any kind of story and just had an arcade mode where the player picks a character, some text crawls across the screen to explain their backstory, and then it has you go through 8, largely unconnected fights before taking on the big baddie at the end. THAT IS IT. There is nothing else… Not even Yoda and Dark Vader change this up much. 

Then Soul Caliber 5 killed off or abandoned more than half of the popular characters and replaced them with new ones we’ve never heard of. To its credit though, there is a proper story that follows Patroklos (named after the character from The Iliad), the son of series regular Sophitia, and his… rather creepy, anime trope, filled quest to find his long lost sister. 

"I want to spend the rest of my life with my sister"

     - Actual line from the game

Also, less than half of the new characters even appear in this story mode so killing off the characters and replacing them is….. Yes. Entirely pointless. 

Also WHERE THE HELL ARE YUN-SEONG AND TALIM!?

*ahem* Sorry… 

Balancing issues, bugs, exploits, these are all technical issues, and technical issues can be fixed. If a story fails however, well then thats a harder hole to dig yourself out of. 

Now lets be fair here, writing a story for a fighting game isn’t exactly easy for a number of reasons. 

Part of the issue is that in fighting games, the story feels largely secondary. Obviously (and there are few if any exceptions to this), the idea of a fighting game is that its played by two people who pick characters and fight each other until one is defeated. Its a simple concept, but one that largely depends on there being two people. Fighting games aren’t really designed with single player in mind. They’re more just meant to give players cool looking characters to fight each other with, and hopefully, some good mechanics too. From the very get go, these games are designed for multiplayer, they don’t really need a story. 

Look at Marvel vs Capcom 3 (or indeed the entire Marvel vs Capcom series) for example, tons of great characters, good fighting mechanics, and not a story mode to be found. Why? WHO CARES, YOU GET TO HAVE MEGAMAN FIGHT VENOM!!! 

But yes, story isn’t really a necessity for fighting games like it is other types of games. 

The second issue with fighting game stories is figuring out a way to tie every single character together, a task that for even talented writers is daunting, and to most, almost impossible. Make no mistake, it can be done, but doing it while at the same time coming up with a good story isn’t exactly a picnic. 

A common trap I’ve seen a lot of fighting games (and Soul Caliber, and Tekken are most guilty of this) is working the story mode into the arcade mode, which isn’t really a story, its just arcade mode with a rival fight and then a final boss fight. Yes, its cool and all, but its not a story, just a clever addition, not a true story. 

The third issue, is advancing the story between each new installment. As every single character has their own goals and motivations (and in some cases, arcs), and by the next game of the series, its tough to say which ones actually stuck and which ones didn’t. This is why, in the case of Soul Caliber, they seem to be telling the same story with every single installment (5 not withstanding, but I’ll get to that in a minute), regardless of what actually happened in the previous game. 

There are other issues to be sure, but one other one that I want to touch on, something that ties more to Soul Caliber than most issues, are the characters themselves. 

I’m not historian, but while I enjoy seeing a french fencer fight a samurai from japan, I’m pretty sure that all these characters are from different times, eras, and continents and could have in no way interacted with each other to any significant degree, unless the fight for these swords (Soul Caliber and Soul Edge respectively) is really that much of a worldwide conflict, and even if it was, like I said, different times, different eras. At best, only a few of them would be alive at any one time. But again, I could be wrong. If someone wants to correct me on that, feel free to do so. 

So yes, there are all those issues, but that doesn’t mean it can be done. Look at what Netherrealm studios did with their recent Mortal Kombat 9, and more recently, Injustice: Gods Among Us. Both of these games have story mods, and unlike most fighting games, they actually prioritize the telling of the story more than actually showing off all the characters and locations (though they still do for the sake of it), and while they are written like they essentially looked at the characters they had to work with and figured out what they could and couldn’t do, at least they don’t fall into the familiar traps of trying to use every single character or making every single character matter somehow. Now, with the upcoming MKX and the fact that they are actually coming up with new characters, they seem to have a story they actually want to tell and are developing the game around that story, though that remains to be seen. 

But yes, we’ve spent too long on what’s wrong with the series and its story, lets talk about where this series can actually move on from here, since Namco seems determined on making more games. 

Believe it or not, the saving grace of this series just may be something that was introduced in Soul Caliber 3, the character creation. 

Since Soul Caliber 3, more than any other feature, the series has created one of the best character creation modes any fighting game series has ever seen (and if someone else wants to point me in the direction of another fighting game that has character creation, tell me cause I want to play it). I dare say that if any feature of these games has seen improvement, its this feature. Hell, in Soul Caliber 5 you can make pretty much any character you want. I even made Dante and Vergil from the Devil May Cry series as well as Morrigan from Darkstalkers. I’m serious, I figured out a way to do that. 

Now, I see you asking yourselves right now if you’ve gotten this far? How is character creation the saving grace of this series? 

Well thats an easy question to answer. 

From a story perspective, if there really is nothing else that can be done with the characters they have (something that Project Soul must have realized if they removed half the cast and replaced them), and if there REALLY ARE no other stories that can be told, then the simplest solution is to just cut out the story and all of these characters and just focus on character creation. 

This isn’t just for the sake of a story either, to quote Yhatzee again

"Everyone would rather see themselves beating up Satan rather than some white haired lady in an armored swimsuit with the voice of somebody’s mum." 

     -Benjamin “Yhatzee” Croshaw, Soul Caliber IV review. 

And for the most part, this largely rings true. Especially online, I’ve seen more people fighting with custom fighters of their own design than any of the established cast. 

Hell, there are thousands of videos on youtube now that show how to make specific characters from other series using the tools in Soul Caliber. 

So if the character creation really is rendering all of the other fighters moot, and if there really is nothing else to do with them from a story perspective, then doesn’t it just make sense to drop them off the face of the earth and just let everyone make custom characters if thats what players are gonna do anyway? 

They don’t even have to be completely gone? They could still exist as pre-made characters to get people started, or just there for people who don’t have the time or patience required to make their own fighter. 

So yes, make the character creation the central feature. It already is anyway, so why not just make it officially the central feature. 

This way all of the weird historical mess can be avoided too cause if everyone is making their own characters it won’t matter where they are from cause they will all look weird (or normal if you aren’t crazy with the designs like some people) regardless. 

As far as an actual written story for this… 

Well, if could be anything really, but it seems like the best course of action would be to take inspiration from SC3’s “Chronicles of the Sword” mode. Something that just focuses on new, custom made characters and doesn’t focus on any of the old ones if it doesn’t need to. 

I also think that some inspiration should be taken from the journey mode from SC2, allowing players to choose their own missions and their own path. If they are letting people create their own characters, then they should at least let them choose their own paths too. Hell, you don’t wanna create a good character and force him to do evil missions for the sake of a single story. So yeah, the element of choice is a necessity, not just for character creation, but for story as well. 

Hell, a good way to tie this to all of the other characters (yet still keeping it canon) is to say that it takes some time in the future and that all of the legendary warriors are dead, and new fighters (IE YOU!!!!) have taken up the fight for Soul Edge and Soul Caliber. So they are all still there in spirit… Yeah… 

This way it breaks out of the loop of every character’s story not being fulfilled while everyone gets to forge their own story. 

Of course, all of that might now matter that much in the grand scheme of things. Like I said earlier, story modes for fighting games are largely secondary, as they are built for multiplayer so the thing that most will be doing will be playing with friends or playing online. 

With that in mind, I also say its best to just give everyone every single customization option straight off the bat, as opposed to making more than half of them unlockables for playing the game. 

So yeah… 

As far as balancing issues… well…. that might be a little tricky. If bringing the character customization to the front and center really is the best thing to do. Then balancing all of the fighting styles might be a challenge in of itself. 

At this point there are well over 40 (yes, 40) characters in the Soul Series, every single one of which with their own unique fighting style and weapons. So if character customization is the main focus here, then the thing that most players are going to want is to be able to play using whatever style they want, or more specifically, using the style of their favorite character. 

So the tricky thing here is putting in as many established fighting styles as possible while also keeping the game balanced. As like I said, there are over 40 different styles now, that might be a bit of a daunting task. 

It can be done, but that doesn’t mean its easy. Hell, I’ve seen it done in other fighting games. 

Hell, to bring up Marvel vs Capcom again, the number of characters in those games are even more insane, yet they don’t feel especially unbalanced. Every character can ideally beat the others if the players knows what they are doing, and even exploits can be countered. There are still exploits, but not so many that its a glaring issue. 

So if they can at least get that far, then that should be enough. 

Also while we’re on the subject. It would also be a good idea to take out weapon stats, as the main feature is character creation now, the different weapons would just entirely be a cosmetic choice. This way, two people can use the same style, but not necessarily the same weapon for fear of different stats. Also it takes out those payers who use specific weapons just cause their stats are slightly better. So yeah… 

But yes, if the Soul series is to move forward, than this is most likely the best way to do it from both a gameplay and a story perspective. 

Especially with games like Destiny on the rise where every player gets to create their own character and outfit him with a custom appearance, armor, guns, ships, and even their own custom ghosts (makes sense in context of the game), player customization is all the rage right now. 

So a fighting game that showcases character customization front and center would probably be good for the genre. Hell I know I’d play it. 

This concludes the first volume of Where do we go from here

Technical Difficulties

I would like to take this moment to apologize right now for my lateness. 

I know that I said I would start my “Where do we go from here" series next week…. two weeks ago, but unfortunately, the video card in my computer died and I had to take it in to get repaired. 

So yeah… I was without a computer for a while. That’s why I haven’t posted or done anything after I said I would. 

But good news, my computer is fine now, all technical issues have been fixed and dealt with, and we can get on with my new series, Where do we go from here… right now…. as in immediately after this post. 

Also a quick aside. 

During my time without a computer, I played the Mass Effect trilogy all the way through and I can say with absolute confidence right now that its one of my favorite series of all time right now. 

I might do an article of Where do we go from here on that series eventually, but not immediately. There are still a few other series I want to get to first. 

Putting this blog to use - New series

I know it’s been a while since I’ve actually posted anything to this blog. Hell, ever since I finished my ‘Devil May Cry Retrospective’ it seems like this blog hasn’t been about anything for quite a long time. 

And to be fair that is partly my fault. I guess I’ve just had nothing to put here aside from the occasional video or one sentence review.

Well, that’s all gonna change. I’m not gonna promise I’ll make regular posts cause I do have kind of a complicated life right now and things are happening in it, and when they happen my first instinct about it isn’t to talk about it online, but yeah this coming week, I’m gonna be starting a new series with this blog entitled “Where do we go from here.” 

Basically the idea behind this series of articles is to look at a long running (and in most cases still running) series and discuss as a fan, as an author, and as a professional, what is the next logical step for this series. As the title says. Where do we go from here? 

We’ll look at movies, videogames, and possibly even books as well if I can get around to them, but as I said in the last paragraph, regardless of its medium, the idea is to take a look at a long standing series and discuss where its next logical step should be. 

Now, just because I am an aspiring writer does not mean I will only be looking at this only from a story perspective, oh no. In both movies and videogames, as well as other mediums, there is quite a lot more to them than just the story. 

Like say if its a movie, we’ll discuss potential casting choices, what kind of special effects should be used, should there be a change in staff (ie director, producer ect…), and if they are working on less (or more) of a budget than they are on the previous movie, what can they accomplish for that. 

If it’s a videogame, then we’ll talk about gameplay mechanics, user interaction, multiplayer, general improvements to the game itself (not story related) including ironing out some obvious bugs, and if there should be a change in developers and/or staff. 

Of course story will still be discussed, as in any medium if you are trying to tell a story, then telling it well is the most important thing, but as I said, story is not the only thing that does into making a big budged project, so these things must be taken into account. 

So yes. Starting next week, we’ll kick off the first article of this series with a series I’ve been wanting to discuss for a while now. 

What is it you may ask? Well, stay tuned to find out. 

One Sentence Reviews: Guardians of the Galaxy

*see above video*

Extra sentence:

THEY FINALLY SHOWED THANOS!!!!!

This concludes

One Sentence Reviews

One Sentence Reviews: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Surprisingly competent for a movie written, directed, and produced by monkeys. 

This concludes.

One Sentence Reviews. 

Happy 4th of July everybody. 

what………

What………..

WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?