The Review Process Of The Fighting Game Mega Mix
How I wasted a whole month of my life playing fighting games all day. And, how I went about convincing myself that anyone would actually find my efforts valuable. Published on Wed, Jan 15, 2020. Written by Michael Bassili.
“Everybody wants to be famous, but nobody wants to do the work. I live by that. You grind hard so you can play hard. At the end of the day, you put all the work in, and eventually it’ll pay off. It could be in a year, it could be in 30 years. Eventually, your hard work will pay off.” —Kevin Hart
This is a companion piece to the Fighting Game Mega Mix Vol.1 article, so I recommend reading that first. (Actually, I don’t. It’s as long as a novella, and takes over an hour to read all the way through. Just read the intro or something and then tell your friends you read the whole thing.) In any case, I’m gonna assume you’re familiar with the embodied self-harm that was my piece on fighting games.
So, the question I’ve gotten a lot, in both emails and in-person, is: “why the hell did I torture myself like this?” The answer isn’t as cut-and-dry as you may think. The fighting game mega mix was actually an idea I stole off of Matthewmatosis. He is an excellent writer and I’ve often used him as a template for the kinds of things I want to write. I chose fighting games because I had recently been on a fighting game binge and wanted to channel it into something creative. The problem came when I wrote a “test review” on FighterZ. I realized that all fighting games are pretty samey, and I’m not able to write long reviews for any of them. What that meant is that a review with five or six games would be like ten minutes long, 500 words-ish. How many times can you say “the game feels fine to play” before buying a handgun and a single bullet1?
Now what if I reviewed way way more fighters? That would solve the length issue, but what about the tedium? That’s when it hit me: just assign every game a series of ratings and move on! This would turn the review into a spreadsheet, however, so I settled on writing a few sentences for each rating attempting to justify my assignment. This would become kind-of tedious, but those bored with my ramblings could simply skim the scores and move on with their lives2. I deemed this a good compromise. Now, I just needed to pick what to review.
“I think the thing about that was I was always willing to work; I was not the fastest or biggest player but I was determined to be the best football player I could be on the football field and I think I was able to accomplish that through hard work.” —Jerry Rice
Five games was too little, but a hundred games (my second idea) was way too much. Unfortunately, I’m studying Computing Science full-time while also working on other side-gigs. This meant I really only had one month to finish this thing before I’d have all my time stolen by programming assignments. I did some back-of-the-napkin calculations and came out to thirty games at roughly 15k words. It would be the size of a novella, but it would satisfy me creatively. But, which thirty games should I choose? I could probably make 15/30 of them Street Fighter 2, but that would inspire me to continue registering for that handgun license. I couldn’t pick one game from each fighter series, because nobody knows what a Virtua Fighter is anymore. I scrolled through my Steam, 360, and PS4 libraries in search for the most relevant, popular games I could review. But, nobody wants to read me talk about thirty good games, do they? I needed variety.
I started with my favourites: MK9, USF4, FighterZ, Skullgirls. Then, I built off those. I added MKX and MK11 into the mix since those are common enough to spark a passing interest in casual readers of the site. SFV was an obvious addition, if only because of how terrible it is. SF2 is a classic, so it had to be included. What else? Hmm, I guess we could go back in time and include some classics like KoF and FF. Oh, and Smash too. All the Smash games should be included, except for the first one, for obvious reasons3. I filled in the rest with games I didn’t know much about, but were interested in playing, like Tekken. The result was, in my opinion, a diverse collection of fighting games. I am, of course, highly biased.
“I think that anything that you do, any accomplishment that you make, you have to work for. And I’ve worked very hard in the last ten years of my life, definitely, and I can tell you that hard work pays off. It’s not just a cliche.” —Cameron Diaz
I bought (or procured) a copy of every fighting game I decided on reviewing and got to work. I had already played most of them, but I still wanted to spend some real quality time with each and every title. I set aside about ten hours per game. And then I played everything. The single-player modes, the campaign, the versus modes, the time trials, the combo trials, the bonus matches. Every. Single. Thing. The problem I came across, however, was multiplayer. Some of these games are older than me, so I wasn’t quite able to review some online components. Torn between mentioning a lack of online play and simply omitting it, I decided to ignore it. If I couldn’t play online, then neither could you.
After each ten hour session, I’d record my thoughts on the game’s various aspects. Things like gameplay fluidity, roster diversity, etc. Initially, I tried to rate everything out ot 100%, but I ran into the problem of having to express my simple thoughts using a hyper-detailed rating system. I settled on a much simpler human-readable rating system (e.g. “Fine,” “Meh,” etc). This made the most sense; when I corner my friends to tell them my opinions on KoF XIV, I’d always say something like “the graphics were shit.” I’d almost never say “I’d rate the graphics a 45%” because I’m not a mental patient. Simple is better.
“I do not know anyone who has got to the top without hard work. That is the recipe. It will not always get you to the top, but should get you pretty near.” —Margaret Thatcher
I usally don’t like to toot my own horn, but I’ll make an exception. I write faster than your average bear. Always have. Out of about 400hours spent in-all completing this project, I only spent 10 hours writing, a pace of about 1500 words an hour. That might not sound like a lot, but this was all written in the span of two days. I made two five-hour trips to my local coffee shop to bang this out before the holidays. I wouldn’t say I write particularly well, but I think I’ve got quantity down. Now if only I could improve my quality too… Regardless, this is the most boring part of the project. Nothing much to say, really.
For those curious, I do all my writing in VSCode. All articles for Mike’s Gaming Trove are Markdown files, so it’s easier to write directly into the editor than to write elsewhere (in, say, Scrivner). I pass the whole document through two grammar checkers: Grammarly and Hemmingwayapp. Each one checks for different issues; the former checks for syntactic and grammatical mistakes, and the latter checks for complexity and readability. After that, I collect assets, finalize the layout of the document, and publish the damn thing. It’s not the most complicated production pipeline, but it does the job. I experimented with writing in Google Drive and then transferring the whole thing into a Markdown file afterwards, but that I found myself wasting hours trying to fix format issues. Another benefit of writing directly into the editor is that I can push drafts to Git so that I can work on it from various devices. I mentioned I wrote the article in a coffee shop, but I mainly edit and publish on my desktop at home. Having articles pushed to Git makes version control insanely easy. So easy, in fact, that I decided to push all of my writing projects to Git, including all my novels and short stories. Now, the article is pretty much done. I publish the article on the website first. Then, I copy-and-paste it into Patreon for posterity and consistency. All done; nothing too crazy.
“I sometimes compare starting a business to having a child. You have a moment of profound inspiration, followed by months of thankless hard work and waking up in the middle of the night.” —Andrew Yang
Do I have any regrets? Of-fucking-course I have regrets. My life is just one long regret. But, I’ve learned that I have to set cut-off dates to long projects because otherwise, I’ll die editing drafts. I’d never publish. I’d never have closure. Given infinite time, I would’ve reviewed more games against more criteria. I would’ve hired an editor to process my garbage. I would’ve hired an artist to illustrate graphics. I could’ve done so much! But, I told myself that this wasn’t going to overflow into the new year, which it did anyways. I cut myself off just before Christmas, and I published it on New Years.
I’m hoping my efforts bear some kind of fruit. Maybe some contract work for an actual publication like Kotaku or Polygon. Maybe something more substantial, a steady stream of work that would enable me to quit my day job. Who knows. This was definitely MGT’s most ambition projects, and I hope to do more of this kind of stuff in the future. However, it was quite taxing and I’m not sure if I could physically muster up the strength to repeat the process for another few months.
I hope someone found this interesting. I’ll try to accompany large pieces with a BTS entry in the future. It’s a good tool for generating closure, as I can note all of my regrets and accomplishments. Kind of like a report card. This BTS article tells me I’m done this project. Good job, me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a month-long break. Maybe I’ll take up drinking or something.
I live in Canada, so this process would take a long time. And, by that time I’d have talked myself out of trying to shoot myself because of my own tedious writing. I’m certain these are the kinds of edge-cases the Canadian government assumes when drafting these laws. ↩
I made each score rating into a human-readable word (e.g. “Fine”) to facilitate skimming. Readers could refer to a small conversion chart for the numerical ratings. This slows savvy readers down, but speeds up casual readers. ↩
In a review of cooking knives, I wouldn’t include a sharp rock. For the same reason, I wouldn’t include the original Smash because it’s just so barebones. There’s really only one playable stage (Dreamland), there aren’t many unique characters, and the gameplay has aged about as well as you’d expect. It’d be pretty cruel. ↩