Screenshot: Gun Media

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.

No Escape

We recently gathered a few A.V. Club staffers to check out the new Friday The 13th game, and despite some mixed feelings—especially when it came to playing with random strangers instead of each other—we came away pretty impressed by just how well it builds a tense, faithful multiplayer game out of the films’ slasher-flick cliches. In the comments, Wolfman Jew carried on the conversation about translating the feel of the films:

The inherent unfairness and even the glitches sound pretty damn close to the movies. I’m being reminded of one of the most hokey of them all, Jason Takes Manhattan, in which Jason sneaks his way onto this cruise ship in Crystal Lake and crushes a sauna user with hot rocks within minutes of the opening. There’s no introduction for this character at all; he literally exists only to be killed in a gruesome, absurd manner. Jason Takes Manhattan is derided as one of the worst in the series, but it’s honestly not that different from the rest of them (minus Jason Goes to Hell and the remake, neither of which I’ve seen).

I think that’s important to include, because hokeyness isn’t something this series should avoid or ignore, and it’s also something I think can help the experience become more distinct. An inherent unfairness (or perception of unfairness) is fairly normal for horror games, but putting players in the position of Jason—or at least knowing Jason is being piloted by a human, instead of a computer program with specific routines—helps highlight how absurd both the movies and these games about a single, unstoppable monster can be. Were it not an adaptation, I think you could even see it as a parody of something like Resident Evil‘s Nemesis. It’s really interesting on a mechanical level already, but having a more kitschy horror game supports that, I think.

Shinigami Apple Merchant kept that train of thought going:

You’re right; human controlled Jason is way more effective than a bot Jason would be for that precise reason. Robotic bee-lining Jason just isn’t as lovably blunt and hokey as a human-controlled Jason is.

Jason is not the Terminator. Jason is not the grim reaper. Or Pinhead. Or Freddy. Jason is a camper in a sleeping bag getting whacked against a tree an excessive number of times. Jason is a car driving away from him, only to have him suddenly, inexplicably appear down the road in front of it, and then not entirely demolish it, but rather grab a camper from the window, and ax said camper in the groin. Jason is a hokey menace breaking through your door with his shoulders because enough’s enough and ax time’s over, and he just shrugs off a bear trap before being shot and fazed by a flare gun or a switchblade to the neck or his Mom’s sweater.

The clumsiness and rawness of it is part of its charm, and as you say, it works as this poignant parallel and parody to the way game’s have handled similar unstoppable forces in the past. This is the horror version of that Point Break Live theater group mandate that Johnny Utah be played by an audience member, because otherwise, Johnny Utah just doesn’t click with the charms of that particular story. Inherent incompetence and naivete is key.

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Screenshot: Gun Media

Because Friday The 13th: The Game has so many moving pieces and allows players to live out familiar slasher-flick scenarios, one of the most fun parts is trading stories about ridiculous deaths and hard-earned escapes. The Wilford Brimley Explosion recalled a particularly tense moment:

The police had been called, and I was waiting out the five-minute timer for them to arrive. I decided to hide in a cabin and ran into a longer, narrow bunk with six beds, three lining each side of the room. I hide under the bed that’s more or less in the 7 o’clock position of the room.

I didn’t realize Jason had been stalking me and as soon as I dive under the bed, he’s in the room. He knows I’m there, but not exactly what bed I’m under. So he starts with the bed directly across from me, in the 5 o’clock position. Jams his machete through the bed, nothing. Then he moves up to the bed in the 3 o’clock position. Then he goes to the bed in the 1 o’clock. By this point, I know what the whole sequence of his stabbing through the bed sounds like and figure that if I bolt just as the next sequence starts, I can make it out. The problem is, no matter what, I have to run right past him to get to the door.

So he walks to the 11 o’clock bed. I dive out from under mine, run right behind his back and through the door. I’m not sure if he ever saw me, but I made a dash toward the middle of camp and was able to make it to the police once they arrived. When it was all over I was breathing pretty heavily as if I was actually the one making a run for it.

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Teach Me

Screenshot: Injustice 2/Warner Bros. Games

There have been a ton of fighting games coming out recently, and playing all of them really got me thinking about how we learn to play games in this genre. There’s a lot more nuance in the moment-to-moment of a match than these games ever really communicate, and while they still have a lot of room to grow, I have noticed a trend of fighting-game tutorials getting a bit better at honing in on those important details. Jon O’Neal had some thoughts on the pros and cons of such tutorials down in the comments:

I agree that fighting games need to teach themselves to players and that Guilty Gear Xrd has probably the best tutorial in regards to teaching a player why and how they should do something (including esoterica like option selects). However, I’m not convinced that great tutorials will have a noticeable impact in making casual players competitive in any meaningful way.

There’s two issues. 1) If you complete the Xrd tutorial, don’t expect to go online and not get your dick knocked in the dirt, and 2) The tutorials, even at their best, still kind of feel like homework.

Regarding the first issue, completing a tutorial in most games typically means you can handle what’s coming up next. With fighting games, you’ll be up against a human opponents of varying skill level, some so good you may not ever get the opportunity to put what you learn into practice. Which is fine because losing, and losing a lot, should be expected when playing fighting games. However, the average consumer buys a video game to have fun. They don’t buy a video game to bang their head against a brick wall for dozens of hours until they get good enough to achieve that fun, even if that fun is much more rewarding than fun in any other game.

The second issue ties into the first. Fighting games don’t have a World 1-1 moment to teach you the game while not being obvious you’re being taught. As far as I know, no fighting game teaches a player how to play without making it clear it’s a tutorial. But that goes hand in hand with obscured tutorials being strictly in single player modes where the “classroom” or “obstacle course” is specifically designed to teach and test the player. If single player modes in fighting games, traditionally, were just to give a player in the arcade something to do until another player joined in, then it’s logical that a lot of effort wouldn’t be put into these modes because they weren’t the main attraction. I’ll admit that singleplayer is why a lot of players buy fighting games now but, for reasons I can’t comprehend, apparently the ideal single player mode is brief fights broken up by long cutscenes repeatedly for three hours. It feels like such a huge waste.

So if learning the game isn’t fun in itself, the player will have to decide they want to become good and put in the work. If the player has that kind of dedication, then something like Xrd‘s tutorial is an excellent tool. If their attitude is “I paid $60 for this, entertain me” (which is a perfectly fine attitude) then they’re not going to get anywhere.

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Cyanotetyphas had a neat idea for a singleplayer mode to teach you the ropes:

It seems to me what you need is a campaign that teaches by playing, like what you’re describing with Super Mario’s World 1-1. Tekken 3 tried this sort of thing a long time ago but they were just messing around—a kind of Final Fight side-scroller instead of match after match. The gem of that idea is still promising though. You need basic enemies that can teach you something with their restricted patterns and are not just restricted regular characters. The gap between practicing a move on an eternally jumping dummy Ken and actually dealing with a crossup jumping Akuma player online is so enormous, they’re not even in the same county.

Imagine if you had a monster/fodder enemy that attacked purely with crossups and was hard to damage on the ground, or a winged Goomba that you had to learn your anti-air options for, or a fat dude became totally invulnerable and able to hurt you if your combo was just a single punch or two jabs. The game could show you that you can dismantle these guys with a bread-and-butter combo and you would learn to use that instead of just mashing heavy punch. Encountering many of these guys in a level would teach you these moves on the fly, in elastic situations, while basic attack patterns would continually be reinforcing blocking/timing in a way that dummy-block-after-first-hit Ken could never replicate.

Hopefully, we’d be able to compare this campaign winner to a newbie who limped through something like Street Fighter 4‘s arcade mode. After SF4, I learned how to crouch gunshy and go for the heavy sweep against Seth. (Guess how much this helped online.) In our fantasy world, a new player who reaches the end of the campaign will have learned anti-airs, bread and butters, blocking, and whatever else you could cram into the game design, and they’d have spent maybe 10 hours practicing on top of it. You could potentially guide someone into this rewarding but unforgiving genre.

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That’ll do it for this week, Gameologerinos. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!