BAM A HAM YUM

This is adapted from a reply to an article that praised Arkham Asylum but noticed that the combat system had a few flaws, and completely missed the actual flaws the combat system had.

Batman Arkham Asylum has a miserable combat system, with 4 basic actions, punch and counter being the primary ones you’ll use, and jump, and stun sitting on the side for when you meet a special enemy type you need to press those buttons in order to start punching.

The primary issue with the combat system is that it consists primarily of pressing punch until an enemy winds up an attack, then you get a flashing indicator that you should press the counter button (I played on hard mode without this indicator, that didn’t make it any better).

Bonus, you can press punch with the right timing to get double the combo count.

If this sounds like an entertaining game to you, then I recommend picking up DDR, you’ll have more fun, it has 4 buttons instead of 2.

Meanwhile, in games with good combat, like God Hand, there are things like startup and recovery frames, ranges on attacks instead of all the attacks snapping on no matter where you’re standing, specific attacks mattering instead of being randomized and therefore every attack having an identical function because players never known what animation they’ll get and other goodness.

The different kinds of enemies are largely pointless, there’s no genuine differentiation between any enemy type except normal thug, gun thug, and drug thug. The knife and shock baton thugs just mean pressing another button before mashing punch. They do not interact with the player in any new way relative to the old enemies, unlike God Hand enemies which have terrific variation.

The instant takedowns are still not interesting, they are just another button press, as opposed to being an action with some kind of physical information, like hitting a unique area, having a unique animation, making batman vulnerable in a unique way. Other enemies can’t hit you during them, and they basically snap onto whatever their target is.

The batarangs just add another buttonpress to it all, press for advantage, no thinking involved. They too snap onto some enemies, and provide a bit of bonus damage and bonus hits when you’re already doing well. They aren’t a unique tactical option, they barely harm enemies.

Ultimately, these are a lot of features, but none of them really augments the way the game is played or requires much thought from the player. No matter what, combat is always a process of going through the motions correctly rather than thinking (with some exceptions during the stealth missions, which were hampered by the silly gargoyles). There are more efficient patterns and they are readily obvious, but rarely are there ever interesting choices or anything that requires any sort of progressive actions or decisions from the player.

It is aimed at people who want a game to play itself, and it practically does. It doesn’t go to the lengths that games like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Dark Souls, God Hand, or even No More Heroes did (NMH is obviously the weakest one here). It is a polished product in every way so much as a Michael Bay Transformers film. There is no real exploration element (at least, not required for progression), there are no real puzzles, the combat is a chore, so what does this game have left?

This is a game that is marketed to people who do not enjoy games, this is marketed at people who enjoy movies, beautiful graphics, great voice acting, superficially detailed environments, and tons of batman lore.

They put a lot into the game, but all of it is really geared more around convincing the player that they are having a good time than legitimately making a fun game. It’s like, “If we animate this with enough heartpounding action, then the player will forget that they’re not really being asked to do anything besides push buttons in time with the counter and will tell themselves they’re enjoying it.”

It’s an excuse of a combat system like something I’d expect out of 6th gen games (remember how every character ever had some 3 hit combo they’d repeat over and over? Wasn’t that fun? I didn’t think so). Instead of designing it to implicitly require careful timing to succeed (like Castlevania, dark souls, god hand, etc), they arbitrated that players use careful timing by building in a timing system without room for improvisation or other factors determining the success of an attack beyond the fact that the punch button happened to be pressed.

A high level player of the game will play it exactly like a low level one will, just they will make fewer mistakes. This is completely not the case in better games, where the better players will demonstrate knowledge and mastery of the system beyond the simple way the game presents you. The game has no depth, no layers of strategy, no strategy beyond the simple.

Physical information, like startup time, like recovery time, like the hitboxes, like how the hitboxes move over time, like the overall range of the attack, like how much it knocks the enemy back and how long it stuns them for after being hit. I call this physical information, because it relates to physical space in the game (and put it in quotes because of someone inevitably pointing out that it’s virtual, not actually physical). These are generally all the traits of games with good melee combat.

It’s not about going for games with just more complexity, it’s about going for games with more depth. It’s very very easy to make a horrendously complex game, like Disgaea or something, but it’s not about complexity, it’s about depth. A big part of depth is creating a very large number of meaningful gamestates from very few initial rules. It’s about creating a lot of things to consider and finely adjust for the player, they need to be very aware of what they’re doing, where they’re doing it, what time they’re doing it, and other factors that may come up. It’s about risk versus reward, with the two being proportional to each other. Batman isn’t about making decisions or taking risks, or really even analyzing and evaluating the situation. It’s about going through the motions until all the enemies are on the floor. Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo is arguably a simpler game (In just programming terms I know it has less lines of code), but it manages to use its simple principles to create incredibly vast depth and an absurd number of possible game states.

It’s not just about having a lot of things to do, it’s about them interacting with each other in meaningful and nuanced ways, which is a great deal harder to do than just adding a lot of elements.

People absolutely have their own tastes, I’m not a fan of RTS games for example, and Blazblue for some reason just puts me off, even though I’m sure it’s a nice fighter, but on another level are you gonna tell me that it’s a taste to prefer mindless games about going through the motions until it rewards you with a bad movie featuring fancy graphics and all your favorite voice actors?

It’s easy to say that we can’t be tricked into having fun and there’s no such thing as fake enjoyment, but in reality, manipulating people into enjoying things is routine. A large part of the hype cycle with game review websites is a form of psychological manipulation of the consumer. We have been conditioned by the industry at large to defer to fancier graphics ever since Final Fantasy 7 advertised itself as being comparable to a movie (and arguably even sooner than that). Beyond that, it’s been shown in psychological experiments that people can be rather easily manipulated into saying they enjoyed something. In one example, subjects were told by a prior subject how entertaining a task was that they were about to do, then asked to perform an extremely dull task for an extended period of time. At the conclusion of the experiment, half of the subjects were paid to tell the next group how interesting the task was, and the other half were just asked to tell the next group how interesting the task was (of course neither group was aware of the other). They were then asked to rate how enjoyable they actually found the task. Surprisingly, the people who were not paid, reported that they found the task extremely interesting. The logic behind this, in relation to other experiments carried out on similar topics is that we tell ourselves stories to justify our actions to ourselves. We have a desire to be psychologically consistent. When the experimenters were told they’d be performing an interesting task, then told others that it was interesting, they made a narrative in their head to justify their actions to themselves. This is known on a broad level as cognative dissonance. Another form of it is related to MMOs and Casinos, where random outputs create a pattern of addiction in players, despite the results being completely regulated by the programmers. This was carried out with skinner’s boxes with mice. Make a lever, when pulled, a food pellet drops. When a device gives consistent output relative to input, it creates a pattern where the mouse is only motivated to pull the lever when it’s hungry. But then researchers made the food pellet drop randomly when the lever was pulled, and the mouse suddenly couldn’t stop pulling the lever, even when it wasn’t hungry.

Many games manipulate us in very similar patterns. A basic cycle of action-reward is alright to teach players to play well, but game developers have discovered that most consumers are not internally motivated to play games. People are manipulated much more easily by external rewards, like ingame currency (which humans psychologically have difficulty separating from real earnings), and fancy graphical effects. The new pattern is, go through the motions we tell you for a reward, resulting in games that, lacking externally motivating factors, are unplayable. I can tell you that these effects exist, because I’ve experienced cognative dissonance, both in life and in games, and in a lot of cases, we want to tell ourselves that the game characters we love (like Travis Touchdown for me) are in great games, but often that just isn’t the case. We very often tell ourselves stories to justify things to ourselves, because of the reality we want rather than the one we have. We want to tell ourselves we’re batman, we want to tell ourselves that we just shot hundreds of terrorists dead, but games of this design are structured to pet our egos more than anything else. Escapism is Narcissism, and we can never have enough of that.

“In a GDC talk, the project lead of Rocksteady said that their goal was to make everybody feel like Batman. Which for them meant, that the combat should feel effortlessly spectacular. It would seem out of place if Batman could get beaten up by some random thug. In this regard they clearly achieved their goal and it’s the reason why they received so much praise.”

And can you blame me for seeing anyone saying something like that and immediately replying, “Kay, your game will not be worth playing.” the Mass Effect developers said extremely similar things around Mass Effect 3 (not that the first two were good either.) They were like, “Every time you push a button, something awesome has to happen.” This isn’t any way to design a game, this is a way to make superficially interested consumers buy your product.

Have you ever seen the Batman Animated Series? This was the version of Batman I grew up with. Batman got beaten up by random thugs a lot. Victory mattered because there were stakes at hand. Batman didn’t just flash his ID and all the thugs fell to the ground, he had to work for it. The animated series version of Batman is what I’d consider the best version of Batman (personal opinion, obviously). Everyone in the series was depicted as actual people with strengths and flaws, and more importantly, as human rather than supernaturally good at kung fu.

Did you ever play God Hand on at least normal mode? It’s pretty agonizing in some ways. Your first time through, you’re going to see the continue screen a lot. However, as you go through the game, you pick up momentum and hang onto it. You learn the quirks of the AI and how to use your moves properly. The entire game is about momentum, and either you have it or you don’t, forwards or backwards, and when you’re doing well, you will feel exactly like Gene does on the screen because it took a level of effort, performance, and understanding on your part far beyond what most modern games demand of you. There is an internal motivation to succeed, not just the game telling you with cutscenes how awesome you’re doing.

Making the player feel like batman, means in part that the stakes need to be real and there needs to be a difficulty to the game beyond just failing to push the counter button at the right times. I played the game on hard mode, and hard mode is pretty hard I guess, but in my head, I’ve solved the game already, hard mode is pointless. The entire point of difficulty in games is to force you to solve more elegantly and to drive the stakes higher so you are forced to perform better, but if the game has no depth driving it, then there’s no point. Games about running through the motions cannot have meaningful hard modes.

9 thoughts on “BAM A HAM YUM

  1. Jason Jackson April 30, 2015 / 5:12 am

    Should have published this on gather your party at least. Excellent stuff. Articulated exactly how I feel better than i could possibly hope to.

    Like

    • Chris Wagar April 30, 2015 / 10:03 am

      Thank you. A lot of this is unpublished because either I disagree with my old opinions, or because it’s unpolished. Or because I’d prefer to make it a video.

      This one does stand up though. Maybe a bit too much mention of God Hand.

      Like

      • Jason Jackson May 3, 2015 / 9:05 am

        Yet to play God Hand. Might buy a ps2 and a copy as opposed to a next gen console.

        Like

  2. RDI October 31, 2016 / 8:58 pm

    Whooooo, hahaha! You went ham on this one, didn’t you? That GMP podcast was right. You don’t like the fact that many people like this game. Are things not going according to plan, my boy? I swear I don’t intend this as a rude diss, but this is fairly amusing to me.

    Anyway, I’m not going to approach from the immersion angle because I predict that it will devolve into an argument of contradicting testimonials. I doubt either of us will be convinced of the other’s arguments.

    If I see things your way in your review, I can still say that what if the gamer is playing this game to relax? It happens. People get tired, and they want to experience exiting, yet smooth sailing. Arkham Asylum would certainty appeal to that kind of mindset than the heavily motion based DDR. I’m aware that this ties in to your “movie, not game” argument, but I’ve looked for definitions of “game” and the Merriam Webster definition sums them all up:

    “a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure”

    I do find fault with this particular one. I don’t always play for pleasure. But my point is is that “game” is a bit more vague than you seem to be making it out to be. My point is is that Arkham Asylum fits this.

    But I’m not here to talk about that. I consider you to be one of my favorite reviewers. You are very, very interesting. But I have two minor problems with you, and one major one.

    Your minor problems aren’t so bad. I’ll easily live with them. You tend to ramble a bit and repeat your points in rapid succession for one. It kinda reminds me of Mojo-Jojo. You also forget your proper nouns. An inconsistent lack of capitalization is apparent in a lot of your articles, let alone your reviews.

    But your major problem is more apparent here than ever. “You”. “You” this. “You” that. “You” would find this more entertaining. “You” only enjoy this because you’re making yourself. Chris, “You” is the most vague thing ever. Who are you addressing? You can’t possibly be referring to every consumer ever, right? I’d say even generalizing the millions of potential players in a consumer base is a bit closed minded. Don’t jump to conclusions. Not everybody is you. I’m sure you understand that, but this article goes against this. I realize that you wrote this article some time ago, and that you admit to overreacting to games that you feel get more praise than they deserve, like Halo 2. It’s human. If you wish to be the authority game critic, than I think that you’ll have to do better than this. The community seems to influence you easily. You made an acceptable argument for why you feel that this is not a good game, but who cares about the community? Ah, I get it. The developers, right? You hate that the community tells the developers that they’re doing a fantastic job when you feel otherwise. You feel that your feedback should reach the developers so that they could make a better product. Ah, but in the business world, the Ad Populum fallacy is instead a valid outlook. Ah, but I’m jumping to conclusions, aren’t I? Whatever the reason, demonizing the community for enjoying a game in the manner that you did in this article makes you look like a moron at worst and an asshole at best? Or is it a moron at best? I’m not sure. Fact is you didn’t enjoy this game, you have your reasons, many have enjoyed this game, they have their reasons, you don’t like their reasons, and, as Stephen Beirne would say “that’s grand.” I have no idea what throwing a tantrum and dragging the community into it would accomplish. Please don’t view this as condescending, view it as friendly advice.

    That ham was delicious by the way. Especially Kevin Conroy, being so quiet, yet being so hammy at once. “You’ll never win, Joker.”

    Like

  3. Chris Wagar October 31, 2016 / 10:27 pm

    GMP podcast? Do you mean GYP, or is there some podcast I don’t know about talking about me?

    I don’t think unchallenging games that pretend to be exciting are good games. I mean, that kind of product is uninteresting to me and kind of goes against my ethos. I’m probably weird, but I do not get along well without some type of intellectual stimulation. I need to think about something. I come home from a tiring whatever, and need to find things to think about so I can relax. Games are essentially challenges that we make up as a form of intellectual stimulation. If a game doesn’t aim to do that as a part of its ethos, then it’s not really trying to appeal to that part of human psychology, it’s trying to do something else, which in batman arkham asylum’s case, I think it is also not very good at in comparison to my preferred forms of batman media.

    The argument here is basically, this is something many people apparently want, the game delivers it, does this mean the game is a good product, given products are supposed to make money by fulfilling people’s desires? My answer is basically, people’s desires in this case are shit, fuck them. I don’t really see another viable answer here, so I guess I’m sticking with that answer. I mean, Reality TV is pretty much a shit form of media and it’s popular. I don’t think this is a far cry from that in terms of intent. I honestly don’t really respect the idea of plugging into something simple to relax, and I guess that’s all I can really say on the matter.

    I use a slightly different definition for game than merriam webster’s that I think is more accurate, you can look that up in my glossary, but at no point did I argue that this is not a game. I did use the argument that this is designed for people who don’t like games very much, which honestly is not a tactic I’d take now and is kind of crass and insulting, which I admittedly still am at times. It’s also reaching a bit, which isn’t so great. Batman is something that people try to derive enjoyment from by succeeding and failing over rapid iteration cycles. It’s totally a game. Also DDR is way harder, not really relaxing. I mostly made the comparison because both games are simple. Game is a super broad category and includes a fuckton of things, and can potentially include a lot more depending on the inclination of individuals.

    I can’t be bothered to capitalize most of the time. I’m aware of that one, and I’m not really going to make an attempt to fix it in the future. I think the idea that proper nouns need to be capitalized is usually superfluous or redundant, usually only helping to pick proper nouns out of sentences, so I don’t think it’s that bad if I don’t always do it. So I’m sorry about that. I try to be as grammatically correct as I can in all other ways. I knew a guy who insisted on including two spaces after every sentence he wrote, and I thought that was a bit silly and over the top, but I don’t really disrespect modification of language, since honestly it’s about effective communication and I don’t really see a significant loss in efficiency on this specific point.

    I think rambling is inevitable, I try to cover everything I can and avoid leaving corner cases unresolved, because I have a history of those coming back to bite me. Sorry for restating things immediately after I say them, I think I remember writing that into something recently even. I don’t really know why I do that, it just sort of works out that way. I’d like to think that I do it less now, but I don’t really know.

    My use of the word, “You” here is because this was originally a comment on someone else’s blog, and I was addressing a specific person. They were criticizing Batman’s combat, and I was like, “This is the worst criticism of the combat I’ve ever seen, it totally misses the point” You’re correct that this is not good for an article like this. I don’t want to edit it all out even though it would be the right thing to do here. I typically only use “You” to mean the player in reviews, because it’s handy, where you’re correct that it’s more antagonistic here. My “Critics are not Authorities” article was also repurposed from a comment on someone else’s blog, but I think it avoids that pitfall a lot better.

    “that you admit to overreacting to games that you feel get more praise than they deserve, like Halo 2.”
    Did you read my overreaction and explanation of that one on twitter? I overreacted because my hopes were really high for it after being really impressed with Halo 1, and I had a bad experience in the first level while I was in a bad mood and should have honestly stuck it out before coming to a real conclusion. I didn’t factor in that it was praised. If anything, my perception of the game was that the single player campaign was disliked by a lot of Halo fans for various reasons. You don’t have the full context here.

    I’m well aware that what sells is not always consistent with what makes a good game. I’ve addressed this before. I still take issue with bad games, regardless of how well they sell. Though a bad game that sells well is obviously a better target for analysis than a bad game that doesn’t sell. Diagnosing a problem with what is popular, and therefore more likely to be reproduced is a better use of time than analysis of the unpopular and unlikely to be reproduced.

    What I’d like to see is a stronger intersection between good game design and higher budget, better selling, releases. On some level I also think the sales of many of these games are limited by their poor design, which is why they rely on a marketing and hype machine to drive sales, because in the absence of those things they couldn’t maintain profitability, and why we see a fair number of better designed games penetrate the top sales charts, or sit on top of the sales charts. I’d like to see a better understanding of design by everyone. I don’t think that good design and good sales are incompatible, but they are clearly not mutually inclusive. So to that end, I separate what I consider a good game and a good selling game, and acknowledge that doing what I consider the right thing might not always be profitable. In many cases, purely pursuing profit is clearly the wrong thing I would argue, as is the case with many mobile freemium games or other business models based on getting the customer to pay more for less value, or choosing styles of game design that are more addictive or random when that would sell better, but contain less substance.

    I am an asshole (or moron, take your pick), and I don’t really mind saying that people who like this game suck and are a blight when it suits my interests and turning on my heels and arguing ad populum when it suits my interests. I dislike the attributes of the game that fans of it have told me they like. I dislike the mindset that appreciation of those attributes comes from. But I acknowledge this isn’t the best article on batman’s combat that I could write, and there are a number of significant faults with it. I don’t know if rewriting the article is totally worthwhile, what do you think?

    Like

  4. RDI October 31, 2016 / 11:12 pm

    Yes, I meant GYP. I have a habit of accidentally thinking it up as “Gather My Party.”

    I know that DDR is not relaxing, I never said that it was, I just picked a scenario where a player would derive way more entertainment from Arkham Asylum than DDR.

    Figured you would be aware of the capitalization thing. So long as you’re aware of it. Your reasoning is very interesting to me. I like that you determine for you what’s efficient and what’s not. I have a philosophy myself that dictates that I never do things solely for the sake of tradition. Paints a bit of a target on my head because I’m a U.S citizen, haha. As I said, I can live with this quirk.

    I’ll accept your justification for rambling. I do that too, sometimes. But be aware that to at least some people, reason is irrelevant. You either do things or you don’t. Anyway, you’re less aware of this one? Interesting, it does seem like a subconscious thing. As I said, it doesn’t really bother me, it can actually be quite entertaining. Like Mojo-Jojo.

    Ah. The “You” thing. So this was a response to someone specific then? Makes sense, you did talk about the review at the top of the article. Well, okay then.

    I made a mistake when I talked about how you reacted to Halo 2, but that brings about the same problem. Instead of buying into the masses’ hype, you bought into your own hype and reacted in a similar manner to this article. If you were in a bad mood though, I can’t fault you. Mood is a human thing. I tend to talk to you when I’m not fully awake myself. I’m just saying that I think you got to be more composed if you’re looking to be a critic unless you want to make anger your selling point. Your reaction to Halo 2 wasn’t so bad because it wasn’t too publicized. I also see you go all caps while making some arguments on this site. You’re passionate and you care. That’s great. I’m just scared that sometimes you’ll make it difficult for your readers to take you seriously.

    About sales, I never said that all good games sell well and all bad ones don’t, I’m saying that if you think that a game is badly designed, but the masses eat it up anyway, than the developers probably won’t care about improving the game in the manner that you wish. I totally agree that a money modeled mindset is a destructive one when it comes to game design, but my point is is that “what should be” is far less apparent than “what is” and I’m not sure what we can do about that. Though, I guess it’s fine by me. If the industry ceases to exist tomorrow, I will still have hundreds of excellent games to play across dozens of platforms, budget and costs be damned.

    I think that you do what you wish. I know that runs contrary to the advice I’ve given you, but people seem to like you. Personally, I think that you should leave this up because the readers will most likely see the comments here.

    Like

    • Chris Wagar October 31, 2016 / 11:38 pm

      I misread regarding DDR and didn’t correct myself enough when rewriting.

      I’m not fond of tradition either, and I’m also US.

      The Halo 2 thing, I didn’t let that totally define the review I’m still writing for it. I edited out a ton of negative stuff I initially wrote and the final thing will be less negative overall and hopefully not come off the wrong way. I try to get stuff right. Sometimes I’m in the wrong headspace and make the wrong judgment, so I try to fix it and admit where I made mistakes.

      As for the all Caps, I generally try to avoid it, because I know it doesn’t look great, but sometimes I can’t help myself and feel it has to be conveyed that way. At least it’s not like this: http://imgur.com/a/q6BUr#0

      I know you didn’t say that all good games sell well, I thought of your argument more as, “Some people like this, therefore it deserves to exist and you shouldn’t argue so hard to change it, since people want it this way and not your way.” I don’t think I’m going to have any real influence on the industry. I just want my viewpoint expressed so people can read it. I want my viewpoint to be more commonly known, but I obviously can’t hope they’ll change their mind on how to build games after my blog somehow magically makes it to them. They have a reason to do what they do, and I have a reason to call it bad, and to call the desire for that thing bad.

      Like

  5. RDI November 1, 2016 / 12:02 am

    Actually, when a website is capable of bold or italicized text, it really mitigates the use of all-caps. I guess I’m not used to seeing it.

    Oh! You’re actually writing a review for Halo 2? Splendid. I thought you were done reviewing games.

    Absolutely to that last paragraph. My argument was more like “people like it, so it will likely persist”. Despite trying to argue your points, I had no issues with your conclusion, just the way you carried yourself in this review, but we already cleared that up. As for whether you should argue against its’ existence, I’m not here to say you “should” do anything. I just gave you my two cents on this article and saw how you reacted to it, and then we talked about it. That’s actually a boon for not having as big a fanbase, you actually talk to your viewers. Everybody starts small, but your readership can only grow so long as you are active. If you ask me, because you have so many topics, I recommend recording some footage and uploading your articles to YouTube. The reason I was so captivated to find out more about you is because of how unique and unconventional you are. I’m certain others will react the same. As you said, individualism is on the rise. However, I doubt you will be able to convince those that are already successful to change their models is what I’m saying. I don’t think anybody can. You can inspire aspiring developers and give consumers information, however.

    Effecting the gaming industry? It’s enormous. I’m not sure how any individual can influence the entire industry unless one is at the top of a major company. You could effect the indie scene. As I already said, you could say stuff to people who want to become game devs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chris Wagar November 1, 2016 / 12:45 am

      I type in formats that lack bold/italics usually, like ask.fm.

      I wrote a review for Halo 1, which is not published here yet, but it is scheduled. http://www.evernote.com/l/AMxmA-fygPVLbaTyBC1wN-GFLpI1RNroJiw/
      The Halo 2 review is still in progress. I mostly have done notes series for this blog, but given someone said they didn’t like that format so much, I’m trying more conventional reviews.

      I’ll say my piece on big games and it’ll work if it works. If they don’t want to change, then I can’t really do anything about that, but I can certainly sell myself in the process, giving people who also hate those games something to rally behind, and maybe change some people’s minds.

      Like

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