Star Fox Zero – Hands-on Preview

I had the fortune to get to play the E3 demo build of Star Fox Zero for the Wii U this week, thanks to the fine folks at Mario’s Hat. I was positively giddy at the prospect because I’ve been a lifelong fan of the franchise. Star Fox 64 was the first videogame I bought with my own money. I got Star Fox Adventures, Star Fox Assault, and Star Fox Command all at launch and played them all to completion. On purpose. I don’t know if that’s devotion or a cry for help, but since nobody’s staged an intervention, I’m cued up to pin all my hopes on yet another stab at getting the game right.

In short: I’m wary, and fully admit my optimism is colored by fandom.

In excoriating detail: I got to play four times; twice through the Corneria stage, and twice in Area 3.

Corneria was broken into three “phases.” The first has you fly in over Corneria Bay and through Corneria City as it’s besieged by Andross’s forces. This is your classic on-rails shooter section complete with flying under archways, blowing up small clusters of enemies, and saving Slippy from a single bogey.  You have the option of playing as the walker mode during this bit, but the minute you hit a body of water you automatically revert to the Arwing.

Phase Two switches to All-Range Mode as you defend a Cornerian Army tower from a flock of enemy fighters, and then a series of giant robo-ticks. The third and final phase introduces the boss fight, which can be completed in two ways. Blowing it up section by section allows its pilot to escape and earns you a “Mission Complete.” Blowing away one section and then infiltrating the interior in the new walker mode (which I affectionately call the “ChickenWing”) blows up the entire boss and earns you a “Mission Accomplished.”

Area 3 felt like the introduction to a larger stage. You fly into the open space around a giant ring-shaped space station, shooting down a few enemies before Pigma appears in a Wolfen and challenges you to a one-on-one dogfight. Once defeated, Pigma retreats and the Star Fox teams moves on to – presumably – the rest of the level. The demo cuts to a “Thanks for playing” screen.

SOUND
There were a number of other games playing around me, and Mario music pumping from the speakers at the venue, so I couldn’t hear a thing from the game. So I can’t really comment on the music, sound quality or voice acting.

CONTROLS
Let’s break this down by the buttons before getting into how it all works together.

ARWING
L-Stick – This is your general control, with the directions already inverted (so “Up” is up, “Down” is down.)

R-Stick – Up is boost. Down is brake. Left and right are sharp turns, and double-tapping either way causes a barrel roll. Flicking down, then up is supposed to make you summersault, but I couldn’t get it to work.

X – Summersault.
Y – No function (that I could tell)
B – Change into the ChickenWing (and back)
A – U-turn
ZL – Target lock-on
ZR – Shoot (hold for Charged Shot)
Start – Pause
Select – Switch to first person view and back.
L-Trigger, R-Trigger, D-Pad – no function (that I could tell)
Gyroscope – Aim

CHICKENWING
I played this considerably less than the Arwing, but the notably changes in controls for the R-Stick are:

Up – Sprint
Left/Right – Cartwheel dodge
Down – Hover

How well does it come together? Serviceable at best, cumbersome at worse. The more I played it, the better I could handle it, but it isn’t remotely fluid or intuitive. The gyroscopic aiming is accurate enough, but I felt as if I was fighting with myself when playing. If I’m steering to the left and dodging to the left, my hands are going to be naturally tilting in that direction as I move the sticks. They will not be aiming to the right, where I am trying to shoot the enemy. It’s a small but distracting element.

When I held the game pad directly in front of my, almost hugging it to my chest, and didn’t move much I found I had an easier time of flying and shooting at the same time. This was not a very comfortably way to play, however. The Arwing itself left slow and floaty.

The signature barrel rolls are also slow to execute. It doesn’t seem like clicking a trigger twice and tapping a stick twice would be that different, but it feels like more effort for the thumb to make these quick movements than it is to pull a trigger.

The target lock button is a mixed bag. On the Corneria stage it felt like a last-second patch for the lack of a radar. The camera took a cinematic angle focused on the target, whether or not I could actually see it for the terrain. However, during the Pigma fight, it made for an exciting dogfight and some really cinematic near-miss strikes.

The ChickenWing was more fun to play than I anticipated. A hold-over from the canceled Star Fox 2, the ChickenWing looks ridiculous but made for nimble, ground-level combat.

Given how intrinsic the gyroscope seems to be with the game’s design, I’ve got very little hope that there will be an option to turn it off.

PRESENTATION
This is where I had the most trouble with the game. In Star Fox 64, you rarely lost control to a cinematic. Most of the bosses entered into the stage while you were flying, making a grand entrance. In the scenes where you lost control – like the mothership over Katina and the mobile suit in Sector Y – after the scene ended you had ample time to get your bearings as you approached the boss (or it approached you). In the case of Star Wolf’s first appearance on Fichina (or Fortuna, for you veterans), if you watched the scene you were immediately thrown into the dogfight, most likely having to loop behind Wolf – a simple enough move. If you skipped the cutscene, you could usually shoot down at least one of the Wolfens before they descended. The point is: you were always in control or given time to regain control. It made for a richer experience.

The Area 3 fight got this right. Pigma swoops in during a cutscene, and when you regain control you have time to align yourself to his attack vector.

Corneria got this wrong multiple times. From the very beginning, after the brief intro scene, you go into a first person view, mirrored on the gamepad. The TV and gamepad both respond to the gyro-controls for a half-second. Then the TV view awkwardly pulls back to third-person, while the gamepad still holds the first-person view and responds to the gyro-controls. It’s clunky and distracting.

In the transition during the midway point of Phase Two, you’re forced to watch the Venom fleet escape, but can still fly and shoot with the gamepad. There’s no cue for when the cutscene is over, and I found trying to flying in first-person extremely hard to navigate. It wasn’t clear when I could go back to playing the game regularly.

During Phase Two, if a robo-tick begins to ascend the tower, the game forces you into a cutscene to show you. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the process of shooting it, the game will wrench control away. You can still shoot and aim on the gamepad, but if you’re looking at the TV, the sudden loss of perspective and control is disorienting.

Finally, during the boss fight, you’re forced into a cinematic that then forces you back into your Arwing and in an attack approach. It doesn’t matter if you were exploring the level in the ChickenWing for rings or performing acrobatics in the Arwing – you’re picked up and plunked down into the boss fight. The camera in this fight is stuck in the cinematic lock-on mode, which makes flying around more difficult and requires you to look at the gamepad screen to aim even remotely in the direction of your target.

This is what has me the most concerned with the game. Star Fox 64, old as it may be, had a sense of flow to it. The entire experience was polished, and each encounter led organically to another or to a brief period to rest. Star Fox Zero doesn’t display that. It feels like it has set pieces and targets for you to hit as you leisurely fly along and struggle to make your aiming not undercut your flying, or visa versa.

Mario Kart 8 let you steer with the L-Stick. Splatoon let you turn off the gyro-controls after the tutorial. I’m holding out hope that Star Fox Zero will do the same and give us an option for a simpler, sleeker-feeling control scheme. Otherwise, I can see this being another Star Fox Command – neat elements undermined by a clunky control gimmick.

I’m still picking it up at launch, though. I’m a sucker for this series.

Raiders of the Abyss

Back in October, I polled everyone to see what kind of story they’d like to see me write on a monthly basis, funded by the readers.  Now I’m finally able to launch the story that was chosen by the masses!

Raiders of the Abyss” is now live on my Patreon, with the first chapter free for everyone to read, enjoy, and consider weighing in on.  You can find the launch trailer here, on my YouTube channel.

I am both incredibly excited and incredibly nervous – I’ve never done something like this before.  I hope you all enjoy it, and that we can make beautiful music together.

…well, not music.  This is a silent medium.  Beautiful prose together?  Yes.  That will do.

2015 Con Circuit

Egad!  Two posts within a month?  It’s true!

This year I have two shows lined up for those of you looking to meet-n-greet, get something signed, or just point and laugh.

HEROES CON
June 19th – 21st
Charlotte, NC
http://www.heroesonline.com/heroescon

NEW YORK COMIC CON
October 8th – 11th
New York, NY
http://www.newyorkcomiccon.com

Depending on other factors, I might be able to attend FanExpo (Toronto, ON) and SDCC (San Diego, CA) this year, but I can’t commit to those just yet.

See you there!

Progress! Of sorts.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind of work for me as we moved from 2014 to 2015.  I’ve done a few things around the site and it only makes sense to update everyone on what’s going on at the same time.  Shall we?

  1. Updated the Website!  All of the pages under the Comic Books tab have been updated with my latest work, most notably “Worlds Unite.”
  2. Ditched Disqus!  There were two or three feedback comments over the past year or two, and those were appreciated.  The 3,000-4,000 spam comments were not.  And since Disqus’s answer to spam seems to be manually creating and updating a list yourself, I felt it better to just ditch the feature entirely.  Between the forum, Facebook and Twitter, if you want to let me know how you feel about something, you’ve got an avenue.
  3. Progress Report: User-Voted Project!  That is still a thing.  I had intended for it to launch at the start of the year, but “Worlds Unite” devoured all of January and February.  I have a fair bit of material prepared to launch that project, but I want to wait until I know what my schedule is for the spring and summer.  I will not allow myself to miss the monthly update schedule straight out of the gate.  I do have a shred of personal pride.
  4. Progress Report: Lost Hedgehog Tales!  The fans have been very patient (and others not-so-much, but it’s understandable).  The project is not dead, just taking a back seat while I sort out everything else.  The “here and now” have to take priority to the “what might have been.”  When it is completed and uploaded, it will be to much fanfare.  You won’t miss it.
  5. Convention Schedule!  For now, I’m planning on attending Heroes Con this summer and NYCC this fall.  I would love to do FanExpo and SDCC as well, but that will hinge on finances, time and work.
  6. New Forum!  It needs to be a thing.  I don’t know when I’ll have the time to get it set up.  The prototype is uploaded and lightly tested, but I haven’t had the time to really look into the new system.  Additionally, the move to the new forum will require the complete take down of the old one.  So the move will require all of my attention, and that’s a very fractured thing right now.  For the interim, the old, buggy forum will just have to limp along.  If you run into any technical troubles, send and email to bkc.contact@yahoo.com.

The year is already off to a wild start.  Here’s hoping it’s been treating you well so far!

We’re Moving Ahead!

I’d like to thank everyone who voted on the monthly project. The number of people willing to throw their support behind it on faith in my abilities alone is humbling. There was a very clear winner in the polls, and I’ve begun preparing material for that project. I aim to launch it in the beginning of January 2015. That should give me time to create a backlog (and let’s be honest, with the holidays looming, your money will be going elsewhere this month – haha)

As for which one won – I’ll leave you in suspense until the grand reveal.

The poll is still up and running, though! It never hurts to get more feedback:

Would you support this project?

The Monthly, User-Driven Story Project – Interest Check

WHAT’S THE PROJECT?
Here’s the idea: with your support, I’ll begin writing a new story that’s influenced by your input. This is an interest check before I devote too much preparation to the project.

HOW WOULD THIS WORK?
If there’s sufficient interest, I’ll open an account with Patreon.com and set a monthly monetary goal for supporters to reach. If the goal is met each month, I’ll publish a new ten-page mini-chapter.

At the end of many of the updates will be a choice on how the characters should proceed. Contributors will get to vote on which way they want to see the story go from the provided options, and the majority vote will influence the next chapter. Initially, you’ll vote with your contribution. Five dollars would be five votes, ten dollars equals ten votes, and so on. (This may prove be a bad idea, depending on how deep some people’s pockets are. We’ll see how it goes)

WHAT HAPPENS IF THE MONTHLY GOAL ISN’T MET?
I’ll postpone the update until the goal is met.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU GO OVER THE GOAL?
That gets bonus material – background lore, character profiles, species guides – all the fun fluff that wouldn’t necessarily come up in the regular narrative.

DO I HAVE TO PAY TO READ?
No. Contributors will get first dibs, but I’ll have a staggered release for everyone else to read at some point.

DO I HAVE TO USE PATERON? CAN’T I JUST SEND YOU THE MONEY?
I’m looking at Patreon.com because I don’t have the time to manage multiple payment accounts and keep track of who has paid and who hasn’t. They get a small percentage for handling all that so I can focus on the writing.

WILL THIS BE ILLUSTRATED?
Not initially. But with enough support, I might commission some artwork to go along with the chapters.

WHAT’S THE STORY ABOUT?
That’s the first bit of voting you get to do. I’ve done a tiny bit of pre-writing on two ideas. Part of your feedback will help be decide which one to focus on and move forward with. If there’s enough interest, the first mini-chapter will go up at the start of the new year.

Your choices are…

OPTION #1 – “RESTORING GLORIA”

The Gloria Kingdom was an ancient, storied and revered monarchy. The Gloria Queens were legendary leaders beloved by their subjects and respected by their enemies. Ten years ago it all ended when a terrible dragon assaulted the capital, annihilated its citizens, and took the city for its own.

Michelle is the heir to the Gloria line (or so she says – loudly and repeatedly). She sets out to find a way to restore her kingdom, reclaim her birthright, and rescue her kidnapped betrothed. Joining her are veteran Donna and loyal (if a bit dopey) Danni.

This fantasy story has the readers guiding Michelle in her decisions. Through them, she will either become a great queen or a lousy pretender to the throne.  Your choices will decide who stands with her in the end, and what she learns of the Gloria line.

OPTION #2 – “RAIDERS OF THE ABYSS”

The Raiders of the Abyss were once one of the most respected and feared gangs inside or outside of the Belt. But between tragedies and mistakes, they’ve been reduced to a shadow of their former strength. The boss is stepping down and putting the fate of the gang in Jamie’s hands.

In the same hour she’s taken over the Raiders she receives word that war has been declared. The Tri-World Coalition and the Lunar Empire are about to tear into each other – and each side is offering a pardon  to any pirate who signs up with them.

This sci-fi story has the readers guiding Jamie as she navigates an interplanetary war, choosing whether to side with one faction or another – or to serve her own ambitions. Readers will also guide Jamie as she tries to keep her gang together – or face mutiny.

Please vote below and let me know if you’re interested in helping me get this off the ground!

Would you support this project?

Radio Interview with Geek Beat Radio

Bostonians!

…and everyone else with an internet connection!

I’ll be appearing on Geek Beat Radio (or “geekbeatradio,” as they seem to prefer it) on Monday, Oct. 6th at 10:00 PM EST.  We’ll be talking primarily about Mega Man, but knowing how my interviews go, we’ll most likely wander off into all sorts of discussion territory.

Podcasts, streams and more are available on their website:
www.geekbeatradio.com

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge!

I have accepted the call to have water dumped on my head in the name of medical research!

This also marks the launch of the BumbleKing Video channel on YouTube.  Hopefully one day soon it will have much more than me getting soaked.  Baby steps… baby steps.

Heroes Con ’14

UPDATED 6/19/13

So… call me a liar.  I’m doing a show this year after all!

I’ll be attending Heroes Con, which runs June 20th-24th.  You can find all the details about the show here.

A number of co-workers will be in attendance as well.  You can find us at the following tables:

IAN FLYNN – AA-519
(writer)

ALEAH BAKER – AA-520
(writer, colorist, letterer, conceptual artist)

TRACY YARDLEY! – AA-517
(writer, penciler, conceptual artist)

JIM AMASH – AA-619
(inker)

TERESA DAVIDSON – AA-620
(inker, letterer)

Update: There will be a panel featuring me, Aleah, Tracy and our editor on Saturday, June 21st at 2:00PM, room 201.

See y’all soon!