EVO 2014 – Predictions

It is that time of year again and this EVO is shaping up to be one of the best ever. With huge numbers of players in USF4, Marvel, Smash and BBCP there promises to be a lot of hot competition, upsets and perhaps some surprise champions.

Given that, I’m going to have to play it safe this year and pick people based on being “solid” rather than brilliant. Will this strategy pay off? Only time will tell…

Main games:

USF4: Infiltration. Akuma is still strong and has new tricks which Inf. will use. He also has enough real alternative picks that he will never face a bad match-up. More a “safe pick” than a confident one, but it is hard to see him not getting close and a lot of his stronger opponents could fall earlier or not really perform (the Japanese sandbagging evo special).

Marvel: F.Champ. As much as I would hate to see it, I think he is still the guy who cares the most and will be at the top of his game. The other contenders, Wong and G can beat him, but only if they are 100% focused, which I don’t believe they are.

BBCP: Going with Dogura here (solid character), but will option select with any other player starting with “D”. Really feels pretty open given the size of the tournament and potential for strange character specialists.

Other games:

KI: Seems like it is setup for Justin, so I will go for Chris G, just because he has to win something, sometime. Would at least be fun to see these two going for their first real evo title.

KOF: Xiaohai just because I see him a bit more solid all around than the others going.

Tekken: A shame to see this is a bit of a non-event, being over on the Friday and not being well represented. But at least it is at EVO and hopefully there will be some great matches to watch. I have no idea who is going, so I’ll just guess somebody from Korea.

Smash Melee: No idea, probably some guy

Injustice: Probably not the same person as Smash. So, somebody else.

A special good luck to QisTopTier who is competing for the first time this year. I know lots of people will be wishing you all the best.

Quick Random Steam Game Thoughts

The eternal quest to play all my steam games continues. Here is a small selection of titles that I have tried recently:

Worth a look

Unturned: F2P DayZ/Rust/Every other game lately clone. So why is it worth a look? Well it is free for a start but I don’t know, it just charmed me a little. Small download too, so why not?
Cloudbuilt: I really bought into the atmosphere and I think the story is simple but well done. The gameplay? It is really hard as in, “expect to spend hours mastering the controls and you have to hold the controller kind of funny”, type of hard. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and in fact is a rather good thing if you know what you are getting into. So now you do and platforming or endless runner fans should check it out.
Outlast Whistleblower: I really liked the original Outlast and the DLC is even better. It does go way over the top at certain points, but that is kind of what you want from horror isn’t it? So check it out.
Marlow Briggs: You might have heard this game described as being better than God of War…in a joking matter. So yes, I can confirm that it is indeed a joke, almost as funny as some of the animations. Still, it has some surprising moments that make you wonder why they put such an effort into this game. Somebody blew a shitload of money on this title, so you might as well have a look at some stage just to be in on it.

Meh

Symphony: After fiddling with the setup, you are inserted into a colourful shoot-em-up based on your own music tracks (or those provided). All nicely done, but I’m not a music game fan generally and the shooting hook wasn’t enough. I’d rather just play a shooter.
Hard Reset: If I had played this a year ago? I’d have liked it better. But as a traditional hardcore shooter? You might be better with Wolfenstein or Shadow Warrior now. Still solid.

Nah
Halo: Spartan Assault: About as bland and unexciting as you might expect, if you expected it to be super bland and unexciting. Guns, missions, graphics? All 5/10 stuff. There is nothing bad as such, just nowhere near worth your time.
Suguri: Anime inspired shooter that isn’t terrible, but it wasn’t my style and the gameplay has very little to recommend beyond that.
Acceleration of Suguri X-Edition: As above, but focused on boss battles this time. Just doesn’t seem very fun at all.

Starting Strength – Problems and Progress

Quite a few months ago now I started on the Starting Strength program. At that stage, things were going well. Besides a bit of a stall on the OHP I was moving foward and hitting my targets.

I was also concerned that I was hitting my limits and it was about to get a lot harder. As it turns out, I was hitting my limits and it got a lot harder.

By the Numbers

First the good news, here is my overall progress to date:

Squats 60kg (135lb) -> 100kg (220lb)
Bench 60kg (135lb) -> 100kg (220lb)
Overhead Press 30kg (66lb) -> 55kg (121lb)
Deadlift 50kg (110lb) -> 110kg (242lb)

I have to say I’m happy with most of that, with a few notes I’ll get into. Overall I still feel I have a long way to go, so there might be another six months left in me.

One thing I am struggling to deal with is the increase in weight. I’ve only put on about 5kg (10lb) since I started on the program but it is enough to bug me. Of course the whole point is to put on weight, so this isn’t a problem (and is what you want!) but I do face that internal struggle of “do I really want to lift more” vs “looking more cut”. Luckily my body is the least of my problems appearance wise, so I can probably roll with it for a bit longer yet…

Bench Press

After reaching 80kg, I got stuck for quite a while. It wasn’t that I couldn’t lift it, just that I couldn’t do the 3×5. In fact I would often get strange results like 3, 4 and 5 reps!

I also had a lot of trouble with my right wrist. For whatever reason, poor form or just using a mouse all day it was getting painful to lift. This started playing on my mind, so I invested in some wrist wraps to help my confidence and this proved to be effective for me.

Once the pain left, I managed to push my way up to 100KG or 220ish lbs. This was a big milestone for me and pushing those two plates together felt great. Unfortunately there also must have been a lot of adrenalin involved, because I have struggled to reproduce it fully.

I’ll be stuck here again for a bit I feel, so a deload is in order to build up again. Still, goal somewhat achieved (on to 145kg!).

Deadlift

Not much to say about Deadlifts. Progress has been steady up to 110KG and I feel like I have a lot left in me. Because of my problems with Squats (see below) it is now my heaviest lift, which seems about right. I have taken out time to check form, as per the gif above I had a lot of little things wrong. My advice to others is to just take the time to do this, because it is very hard to self correct, but very easy for others (assuming you have a group of people you trust like Fitness-Gaf).

I have actually enjoyed doing it a lot more as the weight increases, because it really works the body and gets the sweat running. So goal achieved here, even if it was unambitious. Will keep at it to see if I can hit grown-up weights!

Overhead Press

Has still been a bit of a struggle. I’m only up to 55KG and it still doesn’t feel right. I’ll keep at it, but I can see progress being very slow.

Squat

Here is where I messed up bad.

Previously, I was up to 100KG and things were doing great. But an actual form check later revealed two major problems.

First I was lifting in joggers, causing my heel to lift up as I did it. This is bad, so I got the non-union Mexican equivalent of Chuck Taylor’s to fix that side of it (for Dead lift too). This goes down as one of those “why didn’t I notice?” things, so keep an eye on it if you are starting out as well.

More importantly, my depth sucked. Why? Because my ankle flexibility is terrible so I literally could not bend enough to do it properly.

So I needed to stretch everything out. A LOT. I still need to do it a lot more, but at least I feel like I am getting close to right now. Because of this issue, I have not improved much at all from my previous report. But at least now I know what needs to be done, so hopefully I can kick on from here now that I’m doing it a lot more properly.

Conclusion

I’m still enjoying Starting Strength even if I still have a long way to go. Despite not being bored, I admit I have started getting a bit itchy and looking at other programs wanting to mix it up. But most of them seem to be similar in what is required, so I feel I have unresolved business yet and might as well stick with what I know (or am learning).

I’ll keep at it for a few more months at least. By October? I’ll probably be in cardio mode for Tough Mudder/Summer cut, so hopefully I’m in a good place to give it a break. But no doubt I’ll be returning again to see if I can improve my form or lift more.

Shit is still very addictive.

Steam Regional Currency Changes and Australia

If you have been following the Steam news lately you will know that regional currency is coming. But thanks to Enhanced Steam’s JShackles, we now have a few more details. Steam will support the following currencies and exchange rates at some point.

For a tf2 key it will cost:

usd = $2.19
gbp = £1.29
eur = 1,61€
rub = 73,60 py6.
brl = R$ 4,80
jpy = ¥ 222.36
nok = 13,41 kr
idr = Rp 26504.12
myr = RM7.06
php = P96.76
sgd = S$2.71
thb = ฿70.72
vnd = 46,950.28₫
krw = ₩2,224.93
try = 4,69 TL
uah = 26,76₴
mxn = Mex$ 28.61
cad = CDN$ 2.36
aud = AUD$ 2.34 (+1.069)
nzd = NZD$ 2.49

So how good or bad is this? Well it will come down to publishers… So pretty bad. Let’s crunch the numbers by looking at a popular example:

So say I wanted to buy Watch_Dogs on steam. It costs … No sorry, I can’t do this because I’m never buying that… ever.

Ok better example. Here is how it plays out:

The verdict? Pretty much any way you look at it, Australians will be paying more for games. You can also bet that the currency rate will not be adjusted quickly as the AUD$ rises, assuming it ever does (which it already has compared to the reference rates). There is no way publishers like Ubisoft and Namco will accept their games suddenly being cheaper day after day, so expect it to remain more or less static until the currency drops…where it will be adjusted in real time.

Can we do much about it? Well buying outside steam or gifting seems sensible, but that doesn’t seem to be a long term solution. A lot of work is going into this region locking and those loopholes are unlikely to be available for long. This is especially true when considering the growing Russian key market, which will no doubt ruin it for everybody.

So yeah, the Steam sale is on now so buy up. Oh and any Steam funds you have? They will be converted too… So might want to spend that all as well.

Sigh.

Shovel Knight – Review

http://store.steampowered.com/app/250760/

Good things come to those who wait. Apparently good things also come to those people who pay their money a long time ago and wait. That good thing is Shovel Knight, yet another retro styled indie platformer. And it really is quite good, which is good.

But is it great? Not quite, but it goes awful close.

From looking around the webs, people are very much in “best game ever”, “game of the year” and oddly “better third person shooter than Uncharted 2″ mode. As such I’m risking being “that guy” who points out the games actual problems. While that is a tough job, there are legit issues to mention and I found them quite interesting.

First the good stuff and there is plenty of it. Graphics? Polished and distinctive with plenty of small details, kind of creepy npcs and diverse enemies. The bosses in particular have a lot of attention paid to them and each has a distinctive style, even if the battles are ultimately underwhelming. But more on that later…

The level design is solid (if not a little repetitive due to the nature of the game, there are only so many ways to arrange square blocks!) and the general attacking, jumping and “ducktales like” pogoing is tight and effective. There is plenty of content, levels are long and you can find secrets, hidden bosses, mostly useless items and even mini-map enemies as per Super Mario Brothers 3.

The story is fine, even if it is just kind of “there”. Bosses have a bit to say, but it is never that interesting “I must defeat you because… reasons!” and you’ll see where the whole thing is going before the intro sequence even ends. But for this type of game? It is more than a solid pass.

So in that regard, well done, great job, best indie platformer ever! Or at least it would have been without the phase item.

Here is my first big problem with the game. For a couple of mana you get an item that phases you out for a few seconds making you invincible from enemies, bosses and even spikes. It also freezes you in the air, letting you avoid some falls or change direction. In short, it is incredibly useful, easily spammable since mana upgrades are cheap and remains over powered for the entire game.

Problems with a boss? Nope, just phase out, hit them 3 or 4 times and repeat till they die. Tricky spike section? Use your item and walk straight through.

You do get other items, but none of them are as useful as our little friend. This presents a number of problems:

  • You now never have to buy anything, so money isn’t really useful because any item is just not as good.
  • Bosses come and go fast and there is no need to learn patterns. This wastes a lot of great design work.
  • Environmental puzzles are a joke and the only challenge is the forest designed for the ability… Since it breaks everything else.

But hang on! You might cry. Can’t you just not use it? Well firstly you don’t really know how good it is until you play the game, so it is all a bit to late. Secondly placing artificial limits on yourself is something I never agreed with. If it is in the game? I’ll use it. Playing upside down with a rabbit in my pants would be more difficult too. You might find fun in playing this way (you sick, twisted person) but I just don’t.

Worse, without this ability, the game gets a lot less fun. Fancy an auto-scrolling section, chased by a giant fish and knocked constantly into pits by enemies? Nope, me neither. You know how everybody hates ice levels? Well Shovel Knight has a bullshit one, complete with enemies placed to knock you back over ice into pits…unless you phase through them. As it stands you can phase right through these cunningly placed foes. Without it, many sections will just get annoying real fast. Because of this, I’m not even sure an obvious nerf patch will fix the problem. This approach worked for Rogue Legacy and time stop, making the bosses interesting (in the original version, you could kill just about anything before it moved). But it was never really practical in the main game and balancing it didn’t make the whole thing a pain in the ass.

Which gets me to problem number 2. The death system is part Demons Souls in that you just lose money when you die. If you get back to the same point? You can reclaim it.

Which is all well and good, but gold drops exactly where you die, including in an instant death pit with a giant fish chasing you. Think you can fish it out before you die once more? Think again.

Having the gold drop on a safe platform would have been better if they wanted to use this system. Even better, having a real life system as per the games emulated would probably have been the better choice. As it stands there is no tension because all you can lose is a bit of cash… Which is everywhere and not really worth collecting for long anyway.

In other collecting terms, the relic system is not well executed either. Basically in some stages there is a secret blue chest that gives you a new item (fly for a short distance… Phase). The problem is you need to buy them from a guy in the chest, but if you can’t buy them or don’t find them? You can just buy them from town straight after the level. So really it is nice to hunt them down, but it is easier not to worry about it.

This also applies to checkpoints that can be destroyed. This choice gives you some gold at the loss of a respawn point which seems completely pointless to me. Just activate it and get your gems from the next couple of enemies which is quicker, safer and a lot less frustrating.

This perhaps comes to the heart of the matter. Shovel Knight is a quality package with a lot of polish. But it is only going to be great to people who can make their own fun of it. There is no built in sense of achievement like 1001 Spikes where you can only face up to the level and eventually overcome it. In this game, I think you would really need to be a speed run type of person who enjoys a “no phase, no checkpoint, green ball only run” challenge to get the most out of it.

To me, that is the best way to play Shovel Knight due to the limiting design choices. Maybe this is part of being a 3DS/Wii focused game and maybe they didn’t want it to be too brutal. But in making these changes, they just lost something special for me and no amount of digging will let me find it.

Oh but the music is tops. So yeah, it has that going for it.

The verdict? Still probably a must buy and a more than worthy playthrough. For the right person? It might just be a game of the year contender and a speed run marathon favourite. But for the rest of us? A good playthrough, a happy (if not long and currently incomplete in terms of modes) kickstarter process and a game you’ll never touch again after you beat it in 3-5 hours.

But hey, there isn’t a whole lot wrong with that is there?