Keyboard Geniuses

Mortal Kombat

Mortal Komment

Highlights from the week’s comment threads.

By Matt Kodner • October 19, 2012

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

More Than A Flesh Wound
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

Steve Heisler rounded up the new releases of the week in, you guessed it, Out This Week. Amid titles featuring Japanese teenagers hulking out against entire physical planets and a music game played with an actual guitar, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was released. Enkidum noted, and took minor issue with, a few instances in the trailer where knights effortlessly separated foes’ heads from their bodies, and called for a realistic fighting game:

Everything in Chivalry just cleanly removes heads, including a single blow from a mace, which seems to have caused the head to just disintegrate, or a sword swing that doesn’t even end up on the other side of the person’s body. But whatever, it looks kind of fun.

I would like a game which actually accurately portrays how nasty fighting is. Basically, a single well-aimed punch is devastating to anyone, even heavyweight champions, and a single hit from a sword is likely to kill you or, if you’re lucky, just maim you. Either way, it’s not conducive to standard video game tropes like a health bar. Chivalry looks like it actually pays attention to that for the non-player characters, which I liked—everyone’s basically getting taken down by single strokes. But I’m willing to bet that isn’t true for OUR HERO.

I’m curious as to whether there’s ever been a combat game where basically the only way to win is to almost never get hit. It would be difficult to make it fun, I guess is the real problem. But if we’re going for realism a a la Chivalry, it would be cool to try.

Kombat Through The Dekades
Ed Boon

In interviews published on Monday, Roger Riddell spoke to Ed Boon and John Tobias, co-creators of the famed fighting series Mortal Kombat. In the comments, Keyboard Geniuses mainstay Effigy Power argued that Kombat possessed “a very 1980s type American attitude.” Moonside Malcontent ran with it:

“A very 1980’s type American attitude.”

And I would argue that it’s that very attitude that gives Mortal Kombat the “staying power” that Boon and Tobias talk about at the end of their respective interviews. Mortal Kombat is very much not of the 21st century action canon; there’s much more of Death Wish and Out For Justice in the series than the Bourne series or even something comparatively campy like Bad Boys II. Mortal Kombat isn’t self-conscious. The story mode in the 2011 reboot (which I enjoyed immensely) resembles nothing so much as a 1980s or ’90s wuxia film with an unusually large number of American accents.

But in a gaming climate where we are sometimes deluged with action games striving to prove their serious, morally nuanced bona-fides (not at all a bad thing, necessarily), I think there’s a certain nostalgic satisfaction that comes with playing a leather-bikini clad commando from the future whose only objective is to FINISH HIM. Leave moral ambiguity to BioWare.

In response, PaganPoet keyed in on a different decade:

I see where you’re coming from with it being inspired by ’80s culture, with the whole action movie star angle, but to me, Mortal Kombat is much more about XTREME 90s RADICAL DUDE! attitude than anything.

In Control
GoldenEye 007

We got our third entry in the Seeds video series this week, focusing on the influential James Bond title GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64. Much of the talk, both in the video and in the comments, revolved around the split-screen multiplayer mode, one of the less influential but more memorable parts of the game. Comment Cat is a sucker for flavorful reminiscinces, and Aurora Boreanaz shared a story of a midnight road trip disaster that was saved by an out-of-town friend with a copy of GoldenEye:

Shortly after high school, I carpooled with a friend to visit another friend on the coast, and we decided to head home late at night (around 1 a.m.). In the middle of a mountain overpass (Route 17 between Santa Cruz and San Jose), both of his headlights went out. Luckily, he knew another friend in the South Bay, so we crashed there for the evening. It was four of us playing GoldenEye all night, three drinking whiskey and soda. (I tried it, but decided that whiskey tasted like liquid Scotch tape and passed on refills.) Surprisingly fun to play against three drunk guys and still not dominate…either they were really good (likely) or I really sucked (also likely). Finally slept for about two hours before heading home after dawn.

By today’s standards the GoldenEye controls can seem obtuse—the dual-joystick control scheme of the Xbox and PlayStation have become the standard, and the Nintendo 64 “trident” controller only had one joystick. But at the time, the controls felt like butter, and Trent suggested that shooters on the Wii could take a few hints from GoldenEye:

The GoldenEye control scheme could make a big comeback if anybody applied it to a Wii remote & nunchuck. Think about it: Every Wii shooter has you move the cursor everywhere around the screen, and only at the edges does it move. Then, when you aim down sights, you move your view much more quickly (though it still rotates the viewpoint way too slowly). Basically it’s the opposite of GoldenEye.

Now if you applied GoldenEye controls to the Wii, you solve every issue with Wii shooters and give that unique feel of precision unavailable on the sticks. Move the Wii remote in a direction, screen turns quickly. And for precise headshots or long range shooting, GoldenEye’s original aim down sights (can’t turn the screen, cursor moves all around the player’s viewpoint) gives you that precision and accuracy you can’t replicate in the same manner on control sticks.

Abobo’s Big No-No
Retro City Rampage

Dan Whitehead reviewed Brian Provinciano’s 8-bit nostalgia trip, Retro City Rampage. While Dan appreciated the intense attention to detail, he felt the game was hurt by poor design. Girard agreed, and expanded a bit on what it takes to transcend commentary beyond references:

This sounds a bit like Abobo’s Big Adventure in that it almost transcends its vulgar, elementary pop-culture-reference humor through the sheer byzantine complexity and devoted attention to detail with which it employs its references. It’s obviously a labor of love rather than one of cynicism (like Family Guy, or the occasional lazy Adult Swim cartoon).

But it only almost transcends, and forgets to complement the references with something to sink your teeth into beyond them (whether that’s compelling gameplay, or some kind of Scott Pilgrim narrative/emotional investment).

Living up to his name, George Liquor gave us a technical but fascinating—and better yet, intoxicated—report on what the “vblank” in the name of Rampage’s developer, Vblank Entertainment, likely refers to:

Hey, speaking of old tube TVs: The “vblank” in Vblank Entertainment no doubt refers to the vertical blanking interval, or the split second gap between the end of one video frame and the beginning of the next in NTSC television signaling. Most old-school video game consoles could only reprogram their video hardware, and thus update the image they displayed, during this magical little gap in time.

I’m bored, drunk and nerdy.

[In response to a follow-up comment about the term “racing the beam”:]

“Racing the beam” refers specifically to the process of programming the 2600’s Television Interface Adapter chip. This prehistoric graphics chip had no memory for a frame buffer at all, just a set of registers that needed to be reprogrammed on each new horizontal scan line. Atari 2600 games had to be carefully timed so that they changed the TIA’s video registers at the moment the electron beam shut off & swept back horizontally (HBLANK, not VBLANK), or crazy graphical glitches would result. Game consoles equipped with discrete video memory largely did away with this problem.

As an example of my original point, the NES has enough video memory to create a frame buffer, but it’s not dual-ported memory, meaning only one device on the system bus can access it at a time. When the NES’ CPU updates the frame buffer, it effectively disables the Picture Processing Unit. If this were to happen while the PPU was still drawing the visible part of the frame, graphical glitches would result. To prevent glitches from showing up on screen due to this limitation, the contents of the frame buffer were typically only updated by the CPU during VBLANK.

However, there are a few NES games that violate this rule, like Super Mario Bros. 3: It extends the window the CPU has to write to the frame buffer slightly past VBLANK, effectively increasing video memory bandwidth. This comes at a cost of a slightly-reduced vertical resolution, though, because at the moment the TV screen should be drawing the first or last few scan lines of the frame, the PPU’s video memory is still being written. The overscan in old tube TVs mostly hid this glitch, but it’s clearly visible on a modern LCD or plasma which doesn’t overscan.

The Dragon Inside
Double Dragon

Dan Whitehead had the old-school beat covered this week, with a For Our Consideration on Double Dragon’s place within pop culture. The original game’s decrepit depiction of the urban sprawl came at a time in American culture where violence was ever-present. While Dan wasn’t making a direct connection between the popularity of Double Dragon and urban violence, Kahoutek made that connection with the story of how he almost came to blows with a pre-teen over Double Dragon arcade etiquette:

Two things immediately come to mind when I think of Double Dragon (the original arcade game):

1. The elbow move was the best move in the game. You could elbow some guy halfway across the screen.

2. In high school, my buddies and I used to go to a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour because they had a Double Dragon machine. This was back in the day when you put multiple quarters on top of the machine, where the logo was, to signify that you would be there a while, or that you had “next” on a machine. Apparently, some kid, who was maybe 10 years old, put his quarter next to my set of coins, and I didn’t see it. So after waiting for maybe half an hour for my buddy and I to finish, and clearly sensing that we were not getting off the machine, he went and took his quarter off. I went ballistic, thinking this kid was stealing my money, scaring the crap out of him. My buddy had to calm me down, saying that this little kid was just getting his own quarter back.

It’s one of the only times in my life that I could think of where pretend video-game violence almost translated directly to real-world violence. I’m normally a pretty calm, fight-avoiding kind of guy. I came really close to beating the crap out of a little kid, probably with my elbows.

Ash Sketchum
Pokemon Black/White 2

Anthony John Agnello reviewed Pokémon Black 2 & White 2, the umpteenth entry in the handheld Pokémon series. While Pokémon has long been a part of Big Pop Culture, Gary X linked to an amazing blog where someone unfamiliar with the series attempts to draw various Pokémon by descriptions submitted by users alone:

If no one has seen this they should: A girl drawing Pokémon based only on poor descriptions.

A sample:

Pokemon drawing requestPokemon drawing
Truths From The Woggle-Bug

Before we go, in response to last week’s massive pun thread featured in the Comment Cat, His Space Holiness left us with this fantastic explanation of wordplay, courtesy of L. Frank Baum:

“It means, my friend,” explained the Woggle-Bug, “that our language contains many words having a double meaning; and that to pronounce a joke that allows both meanings of a certain word, proves the joker a person of culture and refinement, who has moreover, a thorough command of the language.”

—L. Frank Baum, The Land of Oz

Here’s a longer excerpt. Thanks for reading and kommenting, and we’ll see you all next week!

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

761 Responses to “Mortal Komment”

  1. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Aurora, you crazy bastard!  You did it, you finally did it!

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      WOOHOO!  I’m a REAL BOY!

      Though I still think Teti just had pity on me…my story wasn’t THAT interesting. But hey, I can at least stop obsessing about it now. Not that I was…much.

  2. ChumJoely says:

    Whoever drew the Pokeymans on that site is either Kate Beaton (“Hark, A Vagrant”) or a big fan of Kate Beaton.  I guess the latter, since the name in the sidebar is Noelle, but still. Look at the one about Ash.

  3. His_Space_Holiness says:

    My first Cat selection! Huzzah! Of course, all credit goes to Professor Woggle-Bug himself, who is of course both Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated.

    God, the Oz books rule.

    • stakkalee says:

      I’ve always meant to read that series, but I never got around to it.  Any recommendations on where to start, or a particular edition to pick up?

      • ChumJoely says:

        The first several are good (I want to say there are 6 or more good ones), and then it degrades from there, basically.  Not sure about editions, I just had some paperback thing when I was a kid.

      • His_Space_Holiness says:

        Oh, I have opinions aplenty about Oz, believe you me. If you haven’t read the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I’d start with that, but it’s not really necessary if you know the basic story (which almost everyone does). It differs significantly from the movie, most notably in that
        a) Oz is NOT, repeat, NOT a dream. That’s a huge copout in the movie and always will be;
        b) Dorothy saves the flying monkeys from their servitude to the Witch;
        c) Its original illustrations by W.W. Denslow (who picked a legal fight with Baum over copyright) are worth a look.

        Anyway if you don’t want to reread a story you know by heart, pick up the first sequel: The Marvelous Land of Oz. It picks up shortly after Dorothy’s departure and follows a new protagonist, a boy named Tip. It features a boatload of new characters alongside the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, and a twist ending before that was even a thing.

        Then pick up the next sequel, Ozma of Oz, which brings Dorothy back into the picture and expands the world of Oz significantly, introducing surrounding countries and the villainous Nome King (Baum spelled it that way because he thought “Gnome” would be too hard for little kids to pronounce).

        The later books are rather inessential, but they are all delightful and expand on Oz in fun ways. I particularly recommend The Emerald City of Oz, mainly because it’s the book in which Dorothy does what any sane person in her situation would do: move to Oz permanently. It’s kind of a picaresque novel, as she and her pals wander around Oz meeting its strange inhabitants for no real reason other than fun, while the Nome King slowly pieces together his plan of revenge.

        Well, that ran longer than expected. As I say, I have a lot of opinions about Oz.

  4. stakkalee says:

    Well, here in the USA another presidential debate has come and gone, bringing us one week closer to the end of silly season, thank Zeus.  It was a pretty crap debate, though – some uppity woman was moderating, and no one asked any really important questions, like which pizza topping the candidates favored, or which video games they played.  How do they expect us to make such a big decision without all the pertinent information?
    There weren’t that many comments this week, either – it must have something to do with the weather.  It’s probably too hot when it should be cold, or vice versa.  The most commented article was the Seeds article about GoldenEye 007, with 163 comments.  The top most-liked comments (non-KG) is a bit short this week – we only had 4 comments that reached double-digit likes, and here they are:
    1) @AHyperKineticLagomorph:disqus had 12 likes on this comment from the first Mortal Kombat interview.
    2) @Bad_Horse:disqus, with 11 likes on this explanation of how a Japanese-developed video game can reflect American culture.
    3) @oneEvolved:disqus had 10 likes on this defense of the playability of GoldenEye 007 when compared with more modern games.
    4) @MalleableMalcontent:disqus, with 10 likes on this response to @oneEvolved:disqus, lamenting many gamers shaky grasp of the history of their pasttime.
    We had 10 kommenters khosen (nope, doesn’t work) by Soupy this week, 6 of them new!  We’re welcoming @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus, @GaryX:disqus, @Kahoutek:disqus, Trent (c’mon, Disqus; @yahoo-OZNYYTHFPZDVWNXP2QQQXZPA2Q:disqus), and @His_Space_Holiness:disqus, so everybody remember your pope manners, ‘kay?  Welcome aboard folks!  Pick up your plaid jacket and moustache wax from @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus; this week’s debate is whether to wear your moustache with waxed tips, or au naturale.  One other note – His Holiness got a mention for a comment on the previous week’s Keyboard Geniuses article, and no one has done that since @Mr_Glitch:disqus did that back in the second KG, so congrats your Popeiness!
    Also, @PaganPoet:disqus gets a second pin, @Enkidum:disqus gets a third, @George_Liquor:disqus gets a second and @Paraclete_Pizza:disqus gets his fifteenth pin!  Super work everyone!
    So we close out another week.  Let me leave you with some more video-game-themed art – this time, a woman who works in the medium of Etch-a-Sketch!  Enjoy the weekend everyone, and remember to keep it scintillating!

    • ChumJoely says:

      That Etch-a-Sketch art page is insane.  I can’t even draw a square with those things.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Would it be cheap for me to claim that technically I was mentioned? … How cheap? Because there are levels of cheapness I am willing to accept.

      • stakkalee says:

        I gave you the assist, but it’s still not a point.  @Moonside_Malcontent:disqus does owe you a beverage of your choice however.

      • PaganPoet says:

        I feel a little guilty that I got a pin, considering mine was a response to your observation, and, quite frankly, yours was much more articulate. =P

    • NarcolepticPanda says:

      Psssh, only 4 comments with 10 or more likes?

      37 likes right here. WHAT. 37 likes.

      Totally didn’t plan the whole thing in advance, right Citric?

    • Moonside_Malcontent says:

       I didn’t want to be the first, but in solidarity with Effigy_Power I, too, was mentioned.  And yet my lip whiskers droop like Ron Jeremy at AARP-day at the nudist colony, and my torso shivers for want of the soft flannel embrace of a plaid jacket.

      • stakkalee says:

        Did you change your name?  Have you always been ‘Moonside’ Malcontent?  Is there another Malcontent running around here?  Is ‘Malleable’ your alter ego?  Your evil twin?  The second of your Three Faces of Eve?  Did I just dream the whole thing?

        Crap, I’m sorry, you totally got your jacket today – I don’t know what kind of brain-fart produced this fuck-up, but to make it up, I’ll buy @Effigy_Power:disqus ‘s drink for you.  What’s your pleasure, Eff?  Something expensive, no doubt.

        • Effigy_Power says:

           Reverse Goldschlager, please. It’s a solid piece of gold drizzled with disgusting liqueur.

        • Moonside_Malcontent says:

           Yeah, unbeknownst to me there’s another alliterative malcontent on this site.  Maybe we should fight to the death or link EHarmony profiles or something.

  5. ShrikeTheAvatar says:

    I like Aurora’s description of whiskey.

    My wife always says it tastes like pencil shavings.  

    That bit about the old console hardware/software is fascinating, and it makes me wish I’d studied a more technical discipline in school.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      Seconded.  The idea that the console can only check for player input in between drawing frames is pretty amazing.

      • ChumJoely says:

        Isn’t that how it works on modern games too?  There’s a big loop where you take input, update AI (and various other states of entities, like physics on various objects), calculate the effects on the world, and then draw how the world looks after all those updates.  Then repeat.

        Obviously there are sub-loops and branches in this for when you go into the pause menu, etc., but that’s basically the deal on any game, as far as I know (note: my real-world experience in this is limited to coding half-assed Tetris and Snake clones in C++ for DirectX 9).

        Of course, the input stream can potentially accumulate multiple input requests during one iteration of the loop, so it’s not the case that only the button presses that happen to fall between frames are going to be detected.

        • George_Liquor says:

          @ChumJoely:disqus You’re basically correct, but don’t confuse frame rate with refresh rate. Refresh rate is a fixed value. Your TV or monitor always refreshes its image x times per second  (30, 60, 120, etc.) However, frame rate in a video game is variable; it depends on how quickly the game can finish processing everything it needs in order to deliver the next frame. The two don’t always match up, which some times causes tearing.

          What Sarkazein70 was talking about is how the Atari 2600 couldn’t respond to user input at any time outside of VBLANK, and he’s right. The el-cheapo custom version of the 6502 CPU implemented in the 2600 lacked what are called interrupt lines. In hardware terms, an interrupt is a special alert signal sent to the CPU by another device, like a joystick. The interrupt tells the CPU to suspend what it was doing and give its attention to whatever has requested it. Without these interrupt lines, the 2600 had to routinely scan its inputs to see if someone was pressing a button, moving a paddle or flicking a switch at that moment. The VBLANK interval gave the 2600 enough time to do this before returning to the business of drawing the next frame.

        • ChumJoely says:

          @George_Liquor:disqus , ok, you’re right, I wasn’t catching the key point, which was that the Atari 2600 was programmed to the _refresh_ interval on the TV.But surely the TV wasn’t sending interrupts to the console. How did the 2600 know when a refresh was happening on the TV, so that it could take some user input?  (I still feel like I’m a little off-base here, please excuse me.)

        • George_Liquor says:

          @ChumJoely:disqus Because the Atari is what’s generating the signal containing (among other things) the ‘command’ to refresh the display. Communication between the Atari and the TV is not bidirectional. The Atari uses its own internal timers to determine when to tell the TV to turn on the electron beam, when to begin scanning the beam across the screen, when to stop scanning & reset for the next line, and ultimately when to blank the whole screen in preparation for the next frame of video. The reason that any of this makes sense to the TV is because it was designed specifically to understand the same NTSC standard the Atari is built around. If you were to connect a European TV, which uses a different signaling standard called PAL, into an American Atari, you’d see garbage on the screen because the TV can’t properly decode the signal the Atari transmits. However, the Atari will still continue to operate normally, essentially under the assumption that you can see what’s going on.

      • Bad Horse says:

        There wouldn’t really be a point in doing otherwise, because you wouldn’t see the result until the next frames anyway. 

  6. Girard says:

    It sounds like @Enkidum:disqus  could use some Bushido Blade, stat!

    • Enkidum says:

      Someone else mentioned that in the original article. Never heard of it before, but Our Lord Wikipedia does make it sound quite a bit like what I was thinking of.

      Would be cool to have that kind of combat attached to an RPG or GTA-style game.

      • Girard says:

         Bushido Blade was a really awesome game, and I’m not sure why they just kind of let that franchise die out.

        There were a variety of different characters with different body types, and a variety of different weapons, which you could mix and match at will (giving the demure little shrine priestess the sledgehammer was generally unsuccessful, but entirely possible). You could lose the use of individual body parts, or be one-hit-killed in the head or torso.

        And there’s a sub-boss who literally ‘brings a gun to a knife fight’ which ratchets up the tension because if you’re not fast enough, he can literally end the match in under a second.

        I’ve never thought about it this way, but it’s almost certainly the fighting game I’ve invested the most time in.

        • Enkidum says:

          Hmmm… from the wiki it sounded like its available on the Playstation Store – I might just pick it up if its cheap, sounds very much like at least the mechanics of what I was looking for.

        • alguien_comenta says:

          I loved this game, I spent entire afternoons with a friend playing this while in college. I remember fights could last ages as both of us just kept being overly careful or end in an instant because some characters could throw knives (or a fan) and kill you just as the round started
          @Enkidum:disqus You should really try it out

        • Yeah, I kind of loved what little time I spent with Bushido Blade, but I also kind of hated how quickly it made me turn into an impatient little kid.  Like, instinctively, it became, “I want this to reload NOW!  If you’re not giving me a health bar, the fight needs to restart immediately!”  Other PVP kombat games had so conditioned me into allowing quick recovery from my mistakes that it was both refreshing to my superego and frustrating to my id to be confronted with something a lot closer to real life duelling.

          If the PlayStation reload time–brisk even in comparison to Soul Calibur, if I recall–was so irritating to me, Mr. watcher of Branagh’s Hamlet, in the late ’90s, I wonder if it would be some kind of torture device for a member of the Twitter generation?  Quite a game all the same.

      • Girard says:

         Bushido Blade was a really awesome game, and I’m not sure why they just kind of let that franchise die out.

        There were a variety of different characters with different body types, and a variety of different weapons, which you could mix and match at will (giving the demure little shrine priestess the sledgehammer was generally unsuccessful, but entirely possible). You could lose the use of individual body parts, or be one-hit-killed in the head or torso.

        And there’s a sub-boss who literally ‘brings a gun to a knife fight’ which ratchets up the tension because if you’re not fast enough, he can literally end the match in under a second.

        I’ve never thought about it this way, but it’s almost certainly the fighting game I’ve invested the most time in.

  7. Moonside_Malcontent says:

    Featured in the Comment Cat threads?  It’s every thing a Mani Mani could want.