Writing up the review of SFIV led me to examine a few additional thoughts I have regarding the game, and gaming in general.

First, I think itís worth spending a bit of time defining exactly what I mean when I refer to games primarily as entertainment.† For me, games, like movies and television, serve primarily as a ďdowntimeĒ activity.† Essentially, for me, theyíre something to do when youíre tired and worn out at the end of the day, something to use to relax and unwind, and to have a bit of fun in the process.† I simply canít fathom the notion that games should, as part of their design, involve much in the way of work.

Perhaps I am unusual in this regard, but I work for only two reasons: compensation, or, for myself, a tangible end result of my effort.† I have no problem putting in effort when there is something to show for it – a set of artistic photographs, a piece of digital music, an essay or story, or even an article like this.† However, even working on projects that I love carries a certain cost, in terms of energy and alertness.

Oddly enough, the most immediate example that comes to mind arises from the game Evil Genius.† As a bit of background, itís an unusual game where you maintain an evil base, and hire minions to protect it from secret agents.† Minions have various statistics – alertness, energy, focus, and so on – and as they work, all of these things drain, to the point where they can no longer function without having a method to replenish their reserves.† As a result, the game requires you to construct various locations – such as game rooms – for your minions to rest and recuperate.† Thatís how it often is for me, and I would imagine for most people – after a while of working on a project, I need a break – doing something stress-free like playing a game or watching some TV.† As a result, when I go to do something fun to relax a bit, and soon discover that itís a lot more like additional work than it is actually fun, I end up feeling frustrated that my relaxation was denied† by a game thatís less catharsis and more grind.

Now, I will be the first to admit that not all people share this attitude towards gaming.† For some, gaming is all about skill (and for a very select few, even a paying, competitive sport).† For others, games are chosen based on their ability to simulate a real-life experience or realistically portrayed historical event.† And for still others (and occasionally for me), gaming is all about the social experience, of playing with, and competing against, friends (and admittedly, playing SFIV with someone in the same room, and struggling with the same inane control scheme, might be far more enjoyable than the online brackets or the hugely frustrating single-player experience).† However, I think that for a lot of people, gaming is primarily about entertainment – about the fun, cathartic experience of losing yourself in a game world, and doing and experiencing (and killing) fun and interesting things that you generally would not be able to in real life.† In many ways, this view of games is an extension of the main reasons why many people enjoy TV and movies – it is a chance to experience a reality and perspective that is vastly different from your own, and with games, you get to improve the immersion even more with interactivity.† But with games, as with these other forms of entertainment, we want our catharsis to work in a positive manner – like Iíve said before, almost no one would watch a show where the main characters fight, and lose, the same futile battle over and over again, and why anyone thinks this would work better in a game is beyond me.

As a result, I donít exactly find it fun when a game advertises fun and becomes little more than work and frustration – hence my intense anger at SFIV.† It irks me to no end that I literally have to work, grinding away at frustrating battles and playing characters Iím less than interested in, simply so I can unlock various parts of the game that I ought to have access to from the moment I handed over my money.† Iíve done that argument to death, though, so I wonít go into it in more detail here, other than to state that the money used to purchase the game was obtained through hours of actual work – I shouldnít have to put in more hours of what sure seems like actual work after the fact just to be able to enjoy every aspect of the game.

Additionally, I have to talk a bit about the bizarre mode of input detection used by the game.† Now, I know that itís not simply because of some slowness on my part – after all, in pinball, I can manipulate the flippers in rapid succession and with quick precision, and Iím rarely behind on the draw at any game with quick reflexes.† And while I donít know the precise latency of my keyboard, I donít think thatís an issue, as I donít see the lag much in fast-paced games.† Rather, it seems that the input scheme is so picky that if I roll an analog stick even slightly beyond a quarter-turn, a special move suddenly becomes an unintentional jump – and even going back to the relative precision of the keyboard, you still have better luck doing a special combo simply by mashing the keys as fast as you can, rather than trying to deliberately hit them in the proper sequence.† And even when you do concentrate on the correct sequence, the game manages to read in wrong and throw a shoryuken instead of a hadoken, and when doing the wrong move at the wrong time can be the difference between victory and defeat, having such a vague control scheme seems to defeat the point of the game.† Would it be better with an X360 controller, rather than my aging Dual Shock or my keyboard?† Maybe…† but I shouldnít have to spend an additional amount just to play one game better, and if youíre going to port a game to the PC, you should make it reasonably playable with the standard input devices that are usually available.† If you have reviewers saying ďitís a fun game, but you really need to play it with an arcade stick,Ē chances are youíre doing it wrong.

Oh, and speaking of reviewers…† I seriously have to wonder how Street Fighter IV manages to score a 91 – universal acclaim – while at the same time, users in forums across the net are screaming that they canít complete the single-player campaign, on the very easiest setting, with any character at all.† This brings to mind an important distinction – the people reviewing games, generally speaking, are the people who have so much experience gaming that they literally get a job playing and reviewing games.† However, being gaming experts themselves, what is easy for them may in fact be fiendishly difficult for an average, let alone casual, gamer.† This is why I usually adjust the scale myself – for those reviews saying a game is easy for newcomers, it usually means that itís going to at least be playable, and for those that even hint at a sharp difficulty curve, I immediately write those games off for only the most hardcore players (in the past, when cheat codes actually existed, I might have considered creating my own gameplay experience, but with more and more developers removing them, rather than hunting about for some cheat or trainer to make your game manageable, Iím simply not going to give you my money – sadly, an option I neglected to consider for SFIV).† Unfortunately, with so many reviewers clamoring about how SFIV was a decent game even for newcomers, I went along with the information.† In retrospect, I probably should have dug deeper, to the reviews that stated a full-blown arcade stick (at twice the price of the game) was essentially the only input device that would properly interface with the gameís control scheme.† The fact that many reviewers seemed to note this only in passing, and the fact that game reviewers saw fit to give a high score only to the version of the game with a specialized controller at three times the cost, seems to me to be a complete lack of editorial integrity.† If you are selling a game for a PC, sold as a game only with no additional hardware, and it fails to play acceptably on the PCís standard inputs, the game has a critical, game-breaking flaw, and to rate it into the realm of ďuniversal acclaimĒ practically borders on dishonesty.† Add to that reviews that largely gloss over the difficulty imbalance, and the relatively specious claim that a fighting-game neophyte can jump into the game and play it with any reasonably proficiency, and it makes me wonder how in the world game reviewers come up with the reviews that they do.† All I can say is this – maybe we need something on the order of a Consumer Reports for games, where gamers of all different levels go out and buy the game at retail (no exclusive/tweaked previews, free games, etc.), and then write up their actual experiences, with no punches pulled.† If the gaming press can give universal acclaim to a game as initially flawed as SFIV, then the game theyíre reviewing isnít the only think thatís broken.

In any case, Iíd better stop there before I get even angrier at this game than I already am.† I still intend to write up a nifty list entitled ďThe Top Ten other things to do with SFIV once you realize that itís impossible to beat the regular campaign,Ē but I just wanted to put forth some additional thoughts on the game, and its repercussions.