The Direct Effects Model of Media Theory: Are People Stuck in the Past?

*Last updated on June 26, 2013

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and Newtown where all home to tragedies that most of us would like to forget. These incidents were unimaginably horrific and difficult for many to comprehend.

However, it is just like human beings to always seek answers. It is in our nature to ask the question why, to find a reason, to explain or make sense of what happens around us.

Yet, it is difficult to explain why these tragedies occurred and why those responsible would so insensibly kill. In their search for answers to difficult and complex questions, people tend to lean toward the simplest explanation. In the case of these tragedies, the simplest explanation is that these blights were brought on by the influence of violent media.

Since the creation of books, people have blamed mass media for society’s problems, claiming media negatively influence people. This continues to be the case today as illustrated by the reaction to these more recent tragedies , in which violent video games and films are often blamed.

So why is it that media is consistently blamed for society’s ills? Why do people believe it is so influential? The answer may be in what is known as the Direct Effects Model of Mass Media Theory.

Let us travel back in time to the early twentieth century. The printing press was the top of the line technology and newspapers made the bulk of the mass media. Sigmund Freud’s  and Charles Darwin’s Psychoanalysis and Evolution theories were all the rage among scientists. Radio and film were getting ready to make their impression in the world of media.

According to media theorist Melvin L. DeFleur, the Direct Effects Model of Mass Media Theory, also known as the Hypodermic Needle Theory or Magic Bullet Theory, was first brought forth during this time. There was a concern that the newspapers , and radio and film soon after, were promoting “personally and socially destructive behaviors” through their reporting of crime, scandal and violent acts.


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The Hypodermic Theory name came from the idea  that media directly infused or injected itself into its audiences

In the wake of these concerns, early social scientists and media researchers like Harold Lasswell began studying the media and its perceived powerful effects.  Media researchers Dennis K. Davis and Stanley J. Baron suggest that this early research  led to assumptions that people were easily susceptible to influential messages subconsciously and it was concluded that media had powerful, universal and immediate effects on its audience.

The Direct Effects Model became increasingly accepted by the public and social scientists of the time. This was due in part to the belief that humans were naturally irrational and instinctive as theorized by Freud and Darwin. These perceptions and theories fit the Direct Effects Model perfectly.

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Sigmund Freud believed humans were naturally irrational

This perception was also heavily supported by early media research studies. The success of World War I propaganda is often regarded as one of the reasons why the direct effects model was so well accepted at the time.

During World War I, the United States, and other countries, used the mass media to continuously communicate pro-war messages to their citizens. Imagine walking through the streets of Boston and seeing posters with Uncle Sam’s face plastered on every wall, post, billboard and newspaper.  In short, the propaganda was incredibly successful and many citizens lined up at recruitment offices or went to work in supply factories

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Uncle Sam was the product of World War I propaganda

Early research studies on the effects of films had on audiences also seemed to support the direct effects theory. Films of the 1920s were thought to be risqué with depictions gangsters running from the cops, teens smoking and couples sharing a single bed. Studies such as the Payne Fund Studies found that these films had strong influences on children and their behavior. The Payne studies and others like them eventually led the film industry to adopt the Motion Picture Production Code, a precursor to the MPAA rating system.

Despite this strong evidence, the Direct Effects Model came to be criticized as new research and studies were conducted in communication and the social sciences.  Psychologists and social scientists were changing the way they perceived human behavior during the early 1940s.

The perception of people as being unique and self-motivated individuals was the new trend. It soon became clear that attention to, perception of and retention of information varied among individuals. DeFleur explains that this led to the development of the Indirect Effects Model of Mass Media Theory, also known as the Selective and Limited Influences Theory or Conditional Effects Model.

There were also many criticisms brought against the research methods used by earlier media researchers and the conclusions they made using that research. In the article “Ten Things Wrong With the Media ‘Effects Model’,” author  David Gauntlett  states that early studies conducted research based on the assumption that the media was the cause of the social problems of the time, studying the media exclusively rather than other factors that may contribute to these perceived problems.

Gauntlett also states that early studies suggested that the researchers or supporters of the Direct Effects theory were somehow immune to the universal and immediate effects of media. If these researchers were constantly exposed to these murders, drug use and deviant behavior during these studies, why were they left unaffected? Additionally, critics believed that researchers and supporters of the direct effects theory were generally conservative and/or religious in their viewpoints and saw anything that challenged these views as unacceptable or corrupting.

Ultimately, the Direct Effects Model of Mass Media Theory was discredited and is rarely used by researchers today. According to DeFleur, the Indirect Effects Model became accepted as a more reliable theory, offering more flexibility in explaining media effects. Despite all of this, the Direct Effects Theory still continues to be relevant among a large portion of the general public and, as recent examples show, the public continues to place the blame on media.

So why do so many people still continue to believe in an outdated theory?

It is possible that these assumptions are the result of how widely known and accepted the direct effects theory was. The idea that the media directly and powerfully influences individuals may have been considered common knowledge and have been passed down as such. Additionally, it is rarely disputed that media does indeed affect its audiences. What is disputed is to what extent that influence occurs and how powerful it is. This may be lost to the general public as they may assume all media effects are universal.

It also doesn’t help that the mainstream news media feeds this perception with coverage about the effects of violent media. The Aurora theater shooting was sure to make headlines. It is only natural that the news media also shed light on other content surrounding these incidents. If a victim’s family member blames the latest Batman film for the Aurora shooting in an interview for CNN, it is sure to grab some attention.

“Music, films and literature have always been the target of many news stories,” explains Luis Hernandez, reporter for Hispanic Link News Service. “These news stories are usually a response to some other group’s action against a particular outlet and it’s the news media’s job is to cover such interactions.”

However, there are also instances where the news media investigate the effects of mass media themselves. Features such as Katie Couric’s special “Are Video Games Ruining Your Life?” quickly place the blame on media. Stories such as this one often solely blame media rather than explore other possible factors that might also have contributed to the tragedies or issues in question such as mental illness or upbringing.

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Katie Couric and other news personalities continue to feed the perception that media effects are immediate and universal

Steve Butts, editor at IGN Entertainment, points out these stories also tend to ignore the fact that not every single person who subscribes to these violent media are affected in the same manner. Why don’t all people who play “Call of Duty” or watch “The Dark Knight” go on killing sprees? These stories continue to paint the picture that all people are immediately influenced by the media in the same manner.

All of this comes back to humans seeking the simplest and easiest answer. Many among the general population don’t question the news media and take what is presented to them at face value. In short, a large portion of the public simply does not care enough to seek their own answers.

As my friend James Maddux puts it, “We the people are self-interested fools whose only exposure to the outside world from our narrow one is by hearing the ones who vocalize theirs. That being said, since we are so self-interested, we do not care enough to discredit them as it would just be easier to accept their perception as truth and be on our merry way.”

While the Direct Effects Model of Mass Media Theory is largely seen as outdated by media researchers, the general public continues to assume that the mass media is to blame for society’s problems and the mainstream news media continues to feed the perception that media strongly affect its audiences.

This is not likely to change soon. In people’s quest to find answers to our problems, they often look for the quickest and most convenient answer. In many cases, it is all too convenient to use a scapegoat rather than find real answers.

If history has taught us anything, it is that mass media will always be blamed for tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that claimed young lives, with the newest form of media on the front lines.

Sources:

Melvin L. DeFleur, Mass Communication Theories: Explaining Origins, Processes, and Effects (Boston: Pearson, 2010). 122-132.

Dennis K. Davis and Stanley J. Baron, “A History of our Understanding of Mass Communication,” Mass Communication and Everyday Life: A perspective on Theory and Effects (Wadsworth, 1981) 19-51.

David Gauntlett, “Ten Things Wrong With the Media ‘Effects Model’,” Approaches to Audiences, ed. Roger Dickinson, Ramaswani Harindranath and Olga Linné (Hodder Education Publishers, 1998) 120-129.

Katie Couric, “Are Video Games Ruining Your Life?,” Katie (2013). http://www.katiecouric.com/on-the-show/2013/05/01/daniel-petric-video-games/

Steve Butts, “Katie Couric and the Problem of Violence: The media’s quest for easy answers does no one any favors,” IGN (2013). http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/05/04/katie-couric-and-the-problem-of-violence

The History and Evolution of Street Fighter

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The Street Fighter franchise is a series of fighting games developed and published by Capcom and is one of the video game industry’s most popular and influential franchises of all time. Street Fighter has not only influenced and innovated the fighting game genre but video games as a whole. The concepts of competitive multiplayer, special moves, multiple playable characters and technique driven gameplay all have roots in Street Fighter’s design.

Despite being the game credited with popularizing the fighting game genre, Street Fighter II was not the first fighting game. Even its predecessor Street Fighter cannot claim that title. The first widely recognized fighting game is a Sega’s Heavyweight Champ released in 1976. Though it may be considered more of sports game by today’s standards, Heavyweight Champ was the first game to feature head-to-head combat. Many fighting games were released between Heavyweight Champ and Street Fighter including classics such as Warrior, Karate Champ and Yie Ar Kung-Fu.

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Sega’s Heavyweight Champ is the first game to feature head-to-head combat

In 1987, Capcom decided to try its hand at the fighting game genre with the release of Street Fighter. In Street Fighter, players controlled a character named Ryu as he battled a series of different opponents one his way to challenging the King of Muay-Thai, Sagat. Additionally, the game featured two-player head-to-head play with the second player taking control of Ken, who played exactly like Ryu.

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Ryu battles Retsu in the first Street Fighter

Street Fighter featured a unique control scheme that consisted of a joystick and two pressure sensitive buttons, one for punching and one for kicking. These buttons were more like pads with air bladders that inflated when pressure was applied. These controls proved to be problematic as the buttons were prone to breaking. The two pressure sensitive buttons were eventually replaced with a six button layout, each button controlling the strength of the attack, that would go on to become a standard for the series and many other fighting games.

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The original Street Fighter cabinet featuring the pressure sensitive buttons

Street Fighter is also noted for introducing many innovations to the fighting genre. It was the first fighting game to feature blocking. It also introduced special moves which were powerful techniques that required a secret input from the player to perform, taking the concept of cheat codes and secret inputs and applying them to gameplay.

Street Fighter was ultimately only a modest success. The games poor controls, faulty hardware and lack of playable fighters kept it from making a significant impact. Despite this, Street Fighter influenced the series and the fighting genre, introducing features and mechanics that have become fighting game staples.

Before the release of Street Fighter II, an attempt at a sequel was made with Street Fighter ‘89. The game was a beat’em up rather than a fighting game and did not feature any of the characters found in Street Fighter. Due to its lack of similarity to Street Fighter, the game was redubbed Final Fight and released in 1989. Final Fight went on to become a successful franchise itself and several of the series’ characters have appeared in numerous future Street Fighter titles.

After the release of Final Fight, Capcom felt it was finally time to release a proper sequel to Street Fighter. In 1991 Capcom released Street Fighter II: The World Warrior which addressed all the issues of the first game and then some. The controls were greatly improved and special moves were no longer secret and could now be performed much more easily. The game also introduced combos, unbreakable sequences of linked attacks, though it was an unintended inclusion. Non-the-less, combos became a key component of the series and pretty much every other fighting game ever made.

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A look at the iconic world warriors

Street Fighter II’s biggest innovation was the roster of eight unique playable characters. Ryu and Ken returned from the first game and were joined by Chun Li, Guile, Zangief, Dhalsim, E. Honda, and Blanka. Each of these characters, with the possible exception of Ryu and Ken, looked, sounded and, most importantly, played differently. Each character had their own playstyle, representing different martial arts, disciplines and regions of the earth.

Street Fighter II proved to be a massive success for Capcom. The game is credited for reviving the arcade market in the 1990s, similar to Space Invaders and Pac-Man before it during the 70s and 80s respectively. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) version of the game has sold over six million units worldwide making it Capcom’s best selling console game to date.

Street Fighter II is credited with jump-starting the fighting game genre and popularizing competitive gaming. After its release, numerous imitators began to flood the market. Though many were seen as cheap rip-offs, several games stood out and developed healthy fanbases like SNK’s Fatal Fury and Midway’s Mortal Kombat. Street Fighter II’s characters also became widely recognized figures in the gaming world. Characters like Ryu, Ken, Guile and Chun-li are instantly recognizable and have made appearances in numerous video games and other forms of media. Chun Li in particular is credited as being one of the first strong, non-stereotypical playable female characters in video games.

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Chun-li is considered one of the most popular and influential characters in video games

Street Fighter II would receive numerous revisions before receiving a proper sequel. In 1992 Capcom released Street Fighter II: Champion Edition which made the four boss characters (Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison) playable and allowed two players to use the same character. Released later that year, Street Fighter II Turbo (Hyper Fighting in Japan) increased the speed of the gameplay, added new color palettes for the characters and new special moves. Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers was released in 1993 and featured improved audiovisuals and four new playable characters: T. Hawk, Dee Jay, Cammy and Fei-long.

In 1994, Super Street Fighter II Turbo was released and introduced the super meter which, once filled, allowed the player to unleash an ultra-powerful super special. This mechanic became a standard for the series and  common in other fighting games. The game also marked the first appearance of the legendary character Akuma (Gouki in Japan), a character derived from Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Shen Long April Fools joke. It also introduced other new gameplay features such as the ability to break (tech) throws and the ability to choose between two versions of each character, one based on the original Super Street Fighter II incarnation and the other based on the new version’s incarnation.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo would go on to be considered one of the most balanced fighting games of all time. Its gameplay is seen as very sophisticated and yet to be fully mastered. Super Turbo, as it’s known in the competitive community, is still being played regularly today and will be featured as part of the ST Games at the Evolution 2013 Championship Series (EVO) in July and the Super Turbo: X-Mania XIV event in Japan in August.

By the mid 1990s, the fighting game genre had exploded into arcades and onto home consoles. In order to compete, Capcom released a true follow-up to Street Fighter II in 1995, known as Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dream (Zero in Japan).  The game featured colorful new graphics that utilized hand-drawn sprites. Alpha improved on the super meter concept by separating it into three levels of attack power. The game is also known for introducing chain-combos, combos that are performed by pressing buttons sequentially. Chronologically the game took place between Street Fighter and Street Fighter II and introduced many new characters, including several from Final Fight and the first Street Fighter.

In 1996, Capcom released Street Fighter Alpha 2 which introduced more new characters and a custom combo system. Street Fighter Alpha 3 was released in 1998 and introduced even more characters bringing the roster count to 28, the largest of any Street Fighter game at the time. The game also introduced the innovative “ism” system which allowed the player to choose between three distinctive fighting styles that changed the mechanics of the game and characters. Alpha 3 would go on to be a fan favorite and would receive numerous console and handheld ports.

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A look at the large character roster of Street Fighter Alpha 3

With the popularity of 3d fighting games growing in the late 90s thanks to games like Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive, Capcom decided it was time to bring the Street Fighter franchise into the third dimension. Street Fighter EX was released by Capcom in 1996 and was co-developed with Arika, the development studio founded by veteran Street Fighter II designer Akira Nishitani. It was the first game in the series to feature 3d polygon graphics. The series would go on to see two sequels, Street Fighter EX2 and Street Fighter EX3. The EX series was not well received by players and some felt it was inferior to other 3d fighting games at the time.

In the late 90s, Capcom began work on the official third entry in the series and the first order of business was to scrap the entire original cast. However, Capcom eventually decided to bring Ryu and Ken back to the roster.  In 1997, Street Fighter III: New Generation was released with new smoothly animated graphics. Its major new feature was the parry system, a defensive maneuver that allowed the player to completely nullify an attack with perfect timing. For the first time in the series, the game made the player choose between three super arts for each character, adding a new layer of strategy before the game even starts.

Despite its mixed reaction, Capcom went ahead and developed sequels to Street Fighter III. Later in 1997, Capcom released Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact which introduced new fighters and ex-specials, power-up versions of special moves that required meter to use. In 1999, Capcom released the final entry in the Street Fighter III series, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike which introduced more new characters including the return of fan-favorite Chun-li. Like Super Street Fighter II Turbo, 3rd Strike was seen as a sophisticated, complex and polished gameplay experience, though not nearly as balanced. Till this day, many players consider 3rd Strike the most technical and complex Street Fighter games and one the most technical fighting games overall. It has often appeared at the top many “best fighting games” lists.

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A parry being performed in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike

Overall, the Street Fighter III did not have as much impact as the other games in the series. Many felt Street Fighter III’s technical gameplay was too complicated and off-putting for casual players. The arcade market was also rapidly dying off in the U.S. and on a slow decline in the Japan.  Over time, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike developed a healthy fan-base among competitive fighting game players who appreciated its complex gameplay  and they helped keep the series alive until the fourth installment.

With poor performances from the Street Fighter III and Street Fighter EX series, Capcom took a break from Street Fighter. Street Fighter EX3 was released as a launch title for the Playstation 2 in 2000 and would be the last original Street Fighter game release for eight years. During this time Capcom continued to release fighting games in their popular Marvel vs. Capcom and Capcom vs. SNK cross-over series. Street Fighter lived on through the release of numerous ports, re-works and compilation sets. Around this time, the rights to Street Fighter were acquired by Capcom U.S.A. who made good use of it with  re-releases and licensed comics by UDON entertainment.

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Street Fighter lived on with compilations like Street Fighter Anniversary Collection and Street Fighter Alpha Anthology

In 2006, Capcom released a downloadable online-enabled version of Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting on the Xbox Live Arcade marketplace. The game went on to become the fastest selling Xbox live arcade game of that year. Capcom producer Yoshinori Ono saw it as a sign of renewed interest in the franchise and purposed the idea of a new installment to Capcom executives. Capcom finally decided it was time for a new Street Fighter and gave the go-ahead on the project. Ono was appointed producer of the new installment. The title would be co-developed with Dimps, a development company co-founded by former Street Fighter series designers.

After eight long years of waiting, on July 18, 2008, Capcom released Street Fighter IV exclusively in Japanese arcades. The game was rendered in stylized 3d graphics but retained the signature 2d gameplay of the series. Its major new features were the focus attack, which could be used as both an offensive and defensive tool, and flashy powerful finishing moves called Ultras. Street Fighter IV revitalized the arcades in Japan and became an instant hit.

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Ryu performing his Ultra attack in Street Fighter IV

Around the same time that Capcom Japan was developing Street Fighter IV,  Capcom U.S.A.  announced  a high definition remake of Super Turbo without knowledge that the fourth entry in the series was under development. Later that year, Capcom released Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix for Xbox live arcade and the Playstation Network. It was an official new installment in the Street Fighter II series that featured redrawn High-Definition visuals by UDON Entertainment and a fan-made remixed soundtrack by OC-Remix.

In addition to the presentation makeover, HD Remix made many changes to the characters and gameplay system in an effort to further balance the game and make it more appealing to casual players. While the game was received well over all, the competitive community did not take well to the changes from the original Super Turbo and it failed to take off as a competitive game.

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HD Remix featured HD sprites drawn by artists at UDON

Street Fighter IV was released worldwide on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in February of 2009 and went on to be a major success for Capcom. The game is often credited with reinvigorating the fighting game genre and the competitive fighting game scene. The console versions also featured a robust online component that allowed players to play each other over the internet. Though it was not perfect, Street Fighter IV’s online mode was seen as the best available for any fighting game at the time due to a strong netcode that reduced lag and a replay feature that allowed players to record and playback matches. Network play introduced many new players to the competitive aspects of Street Fighter and further popularized the game. Capcom capitalized on this success and released several updates and sequels for Street Fighter IV and its other fighting game franchises.

In 2010, Capcom released an update to Street Fighter IV on consoles in the form of Super Street Fighter IV which featured numerous revisions and ten additional characters. Super Street Fighter IV also introduced the option of choosing between two Ultra Combos for each character, much like the choosing of Super Arts in Street Fighter III. The game also made many improvements to the online component, introducing more modes, features, and further improving the netcode.

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A look at the massive roster of Super Street Fighter IV

In late 2010, Capcom released another update to Street Fighter IV titled Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. This update was initially exclusive to Japanese arcades, but due to popular demand, the update was released as downloadable content for consoles in early 2011. The update included four new characters, balance changes and new online features. Arcade Edition received a free update titled “Version 2012” in late 2011. While the update did not introduce any new characters, modes or mechanics, it did make several balance changes to the entire roster of characters. There are some in the competitive Street Fighter community that feel Version 2012 is the most balanced game in the series.

Capcom recently announced that they would be releasing a new update to Arcade Edition later this year that will be appropriately titled “Version 2013.” No specifics about the update have been announced but it is believed that Capcom will reveal more information during the EVO 2013 event in July.

Capcom’s support for Street Fighter IV has made it a popular and enduring entry in the series that will no doubt continue to be played for years to come.

The Street Fighter franchise is without a doubt one of the video game industry’s most successful and influential franchises. It innovated and introduced the fighting game genre and the world of competitive gaming to many gamers all over the world. The gameplay, mechanics and characters introduced by the series have heavily influenced the fighting genre and video games as a whole. Competitive tournaments featuring Street Fighter games are held annually like EVO and the new Street Fighter Anniversary Tournament. Its characters have become pop cultural icons, making cameos in various other forms of media.

Street Fighter will continue to live on as long as its fans continue to embrace it.

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Sources:

Street Fighter: The Complete History, Chris Carle (2009).

Vintage Games: An insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time, Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton (2009).

A Street Fighter Retrospective – parts 1-8, Nostalgic Gamer (2009). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA2wq6wJJv4

History of Fighting, Machinima (2009). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YtGjtbEFC0

Review – Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm – PC

HoTS Review

*Note: This review is based off Version: 2.08.25604

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm is the second addition to the Starcraft II series of real-time strategy games, featuring an all new campaign completely dedicated to Zerg race and new gameplay additions and improvements to multiplayer. While Heart of Swarm does not stand on its own as a completely new game, it serves as a welcome companion and expansion to Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty and introduces enough tweaks to the multiplayer that it has the potential to dramatically change the game for the competitive crowd.

When Blizzard first announced that it would be splitting Starcraft II into three separate games, the first being Wings of Liberty and the last being the still unreleased Legacy of the Void, many fans were skeptical. Blizzard’s reasoning was to offer full fledged and robust campaigns for each of the game’s three races: Terran, Zerg, and Protoss. Blizzard more or less followed through on this idea and presented a varied and beefy campaign in Heart of the Swarm.

Single Player

The campaign in Heart of the Swarm, is the largest addition to Starcraft II and the main reason to buy this expansion for those that have no desire to play competitive multiplayer. Like Wings of Liberty before it, the campaign is fairly lengthy and offers a gameplay experience that is unique from the multiplayer component. In the same vain as Wings of Liberty with the Terran, Heart of the Swarm focuses on the Zerg race. In particular the story follows Sarah Kerrigan, a character that is instantly known to fans of the series and an important member of the franchises mythology. The player controls her and the Zerg swarm for the majority of the campaign.

One the major new additions to the campaign is that Kerrigan functions a lot like a Hero unit from Blizzard’s other big RTS, Warcraft III. She is generally stronger than the rest of the units in the game and has a wide range of abilities. She levels up as you progress through the campaign, becoming more powerful and learning new abilities. At times Kerrigan feels a bit too powerful and she is capable of handling small armies on her own with proper micro management. However, her death usually results in failure of the mission in progress, so the player has to make sure to keep her safe while still utilizing her abilities during battles.

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The campaign has plenty of detailed cut-scenes

The missions themselves are your standard fair for real-time strategy campaigns but there is plenty of mission variety. Extra side objectives are available for players looking for something extra to do during these missions. These side objects are also essential if you want to level up Kerrigan further and utilizing her more powerful abilities. In total, the game has 20 missions, not including the evolution missions, which let the player test out the evolutionary paths of their units. The campaign is a bit more linear than Wings of Liberty and the choices you make don’t seem as meaningful as they were in Wings but I found the mission variety to be overall better.

Like Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm features units and abilities exclusive to the campaign that cannot be found in multiplayer and  for good reason. The additional units, abilities and upgrades are quite ridiculous and unbalanced, but they are so much fun to use. These extras add further variety to the gameplay and incentive to play the single player component. It also makes the single player campaign much easier for new and casual players to jump into and enjoy.

Unfortunately, Heart of Swarm’s largest flaw is its narrative. Those hoping that Heart of the Swarm would improve on the story of Wings of Liberty will be very disappointed. In many ways, the story is actually worse. Kerrigan comes off as a very unintelligent character during much of the campaign. Her motives and decisions are childish and devoid of logic. The dialog is quite often generic and even cheesy at times. The plot itself is very simplistic and ultimately consists of Kerrigan amassing an army strong enough to attack the city of Korhal so she can exact revenge on Emperor Mengsk. Its only saving grace is that it can still be entertaining at times and that it explains and expands on some of the overall Starcraft lore.

In short, don’t play the campaign for its story but for its fun and diverse missions that offer an experience that is completely different from multiplayer.

Gameplay and Multiplayer

At the end of the day, Heart of the Swarm is a competitive RTS. The game is constructed on and lives through its multiplayer component. Fortunately, the multiplayer is still going strong and Blizzard made numerous changes that will no doubt spice up the game.

The largest addition to the multiplayer is the inclusion of brand new units for each of the three races. The inclusion of new units such as the Tempest, Fire Bat, and Swarm Host add a new level of strategy to the already complex game. Many of the new units also give their respective races additional options they did not have in Wings of Liberty. For example, the new Mothership Core unit gives the Protoss an effective way to harass opponents during the early game. The Swarm Host gives the Zerg to ability to  siege for both defensive and offensive purposes. Overall, these units are very welcome additions and have the potential to drastically change the way the game is played at a high level. Of course, there are many new balance changes and maps for players to develop new strategies around as well.

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The Protoss Tempest and Zerg Viper in action

Other new large additions to the multiplayer are the various interface changes that make multitasking and macro play much easier for beginners. Of these changes, the most notable and useful one is the ability to see how many workers you have mining minerals and vespene gas. This allows you to manage your economy more efficiently by allowing the player to optimally make use of his or her workers. While these additions seem very small on the surface, they make a world of difference in hectic matches when the player is trying to juggle numerous actions at once.

Online matchmaking also received some new additions. The addition of unranked matches is a welcomed add-on that allows players to play matches without the stress of worrying how it will impact their rank, which I’m sure many of the less competitive players will certainly appreciate. The replay feature was also revamped including the awesome new ability to resume a physical game off a replay, a feature many in the e-sports community requested.

Some of these changes and additions mentioned are available in Wings of Liberty through a free update. However, those that want to take advantage of the new units, maps and balance adjustments will need to own Heart of the Swarm. This can be a tough sell for those who play Starcraft II exclusively for multiplayer and have little to no interest in single player. However, the new units, maps, and balance updates change the core gameplay enough to warrant the investment in my opinion. Obviously if you are a competitive player, Heart of the Swarm is a must if you want to keep up with the rest of the community.

Like with any competitive video game, it is difficult to really say where the balance of the game is so soon after launch. Blizzard hasn’t made many balance changes since the game launched in March, which is a good sign in my opinion. After playing the game and watching the pros play during the Starcraft II World Championship Series, I would say it appears to be well balanced for now. All of the races have some really strong tech and strategies. In particular, I am glad to see the Protoss do so well during the WCS. The Protoss have been the least played race since Wings of Liberty released, so it has been nice to see Protoss players do well in competition.

If there is a race that is stronger than the others, I would say it might be the Terran only because they can get so much mileage of out there early game units. Medivacs paired with upgraded Marines and Marauders or Siege Tanks can be just as effective early game as late game. Terran certainly is not overpowered however, and it remains to be seen how well these builds and strategies will hold up as the game ages and receives updates.

I would also like to note that, even with all the new additions and UI overhauls, Starcraft II is still in an incredibly deep and complex game that isn’t always kind to new or casual players looking to jump into online multiplayer. The addition of the worker counter and unranked matches will no doubt help the inexperienced looking to get into multiplayer but it will not dramatically improve their chances of winning. However, there isn’t really a better way to get into Starcraft as Heart of the Swarm is the most beginner friendly entry in the series. Still, for those that enjoy strategy-intensive competitive-multiplayer games, Starcraft II is no doubt one the most strategic and deep games available.

Presentation

From a presentation standpoint, Heart of the Swarm unsurprisingly is not much different from Wings of Liberty. The game is still beautiful artistically, with colorful and creative environments, units, and characters. The only major noticeable change made to the graphics is the addition of a new physics engine that does make for some neat looking effects and animations. From a technical stand point, the game is not quite as detailed as other current generation games on the market. On the flipside, the game is not incredibly demanding and is well optimized for lower end PCs. For those that have an even moderately powerful PC, the game looks great on high settings and can run at 60 frames per second fairly well. The game will inevitably slow down however during large scale battles when the screen is filled with hundreds of units at one time.

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The game looks beautiful at high graphical settings

The sound is also very good and features same great music, especially the new sinister sounding background  menu music. This game sounds amazing through surround sound speakers and top quality headsets. It has some trouble outputting in surround sound through certain audio devices and the sound quality significantly decreases while using Bluetooth devices. At the time of this review, these issues have yet to be fixed. Hopefully Blizzard will address these problems in a future patch. Aside from these issues, the game sounds terrific.

Conclusion

Overall, Heart of the Swarm is great expansion to Starcraft II that offers plenty of new features in both the single and multiplayer departments. The campaign is lengthy and diverse and offers a fun diversion from the more serious and complex multiplayer. The multiplayer component of the game received many new improvements and additions that change the way the game is played significantly and makes it easier for new players to enjoy and improve their game. It does not quite stand alone as a completely new game and it can still be a tough sell for those solely interested in multiplayer. However, I believe there is enough new content to warrant the purchase of this expansion for Starcraft fans. The game is still incredibly complex but Heart of the Swarm is the best way for inexperienced players to jump into the series.

Score: 4/5

Deal With It: The Challenges of Game Balancing

Ono nerfs Akuma

*Note: This article has been tweaked and updated with new quotes, including a few from Reepal “Rip” Parbhoo, as of June 6, 2013. Updates pertaining to new developments in balance made to the games mentioned are not included. The games are discussed based how they were on May 31, 2013. Who can keep up with all of Injustice’s changes anyway?

Imagine yourself fighting an opponent you can’t get close to because he is constantly firing a stream of bullets at you from a far off distance.

This is something numerous online gamers have been facing recently, forcing many of them to throw their controls in rage. I am not talking about “Call of Duty”; I’m referring to the character Deathstroke from “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” released on April 16.

The game has only been out a little over a month now and players have been constantly complaining about Deathstroke and his rain of bullets, calling him “cheap” and even “broken.” The same is being said of the game’s intractable stages, a controversial mechanic among players even before the game’s release.

Some players have requested that the character and stage interactions be “patched” in a future game update or even banned from future Injustice tournaments. Players got part of their wish in a recent update for the game, which saw Deathstroke’s guns hit with the nerf hammer.

However, is it possible that these gamers and developer NetherRealm Studios jumped the gun? After all, players said the same about Wesker from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Two years after release, Wesker is no longer considered king, and has since been replaced at the top of the tier lists by Morrigan, a character thought to be underpowered when UMvC3 was initially released.

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Top Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Morrigan player Chris G

In an age of Internet-connected gaming consoles, gamers have come to expect video games to be patched quickly to fix bugs and gameplay imbalances, and developers have become accustomed to releasing  products earlier and fixing them later through patches. For many, it is as simple as  changing one line of code. In reality, not only does it take time and resources to patch a game but there are also gameplay design and balance issues to be considered.

“Game Balancing is what makes game design difficult in general,” states Estevan Lopez, level designer for Radical Impact. “Balancing often involves a lot more than just game mechanics, and it can influence everything from pacing to story and can even change what platforms the game is made for.”

Balancing a game is, no doubt, one of the most difficult tasks game developers undertake, especially in competitive video games. The balance of a competitive game can often, though not always, easily determine whether the game is a success or failure. As such, it is something that must be handled with a lot of care and attention, and it presents a great number of challenges for  developers.

One of the most common issues developers run into today is players demanding patches or other fixes shortly after a video game’s release, as was the case with Injustice. However, there are many drawbacks to patching a competitive video game early on its life cycle and developers need to tread carefully down this path.

“Most of the time, the community for a game will jump to conclusions far too early without fleshing out all counter strategies that the game provides.” states Reepal Parbhoo, competitive player and founder of LevelUpYourGame.com.

Competitive video games have unusually long life spans. Players were holding LAN parties for Starcraft and its expansion Brood War for nearly 12 years before Starcraft II hit PCs in 2010. Competitors are still throwing hadokens in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, released in 1994, as evidenced by the upcoming ST Games at Evolution 2013 and the recently announced Super Turbo: X-Mania XIV event in Japan.

The way competitive games are played evolves, and certain characters or strategies that were once considered strong lose their strength as new strategies are invented. Patching games early on can often remove strategies that players haven’t had the chance to fully explore. Additionally, fixing games before they are fully investigated can create new unintended imbalances.

A great example to illustrate this is the Heroes and Heralds patch Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 received about a month after release. Along with adding the Heroes and Heralds mode to the game, some glitches were fixed and a couple character balances were made. In particular, one small change was made to the character Phoenix Wright which had an enormous impact on his balance. This tweak changed Phoenix Wright from a viable assist character to, arguably, a joke character that is now rarely highlighted on the character select screen.

While we may never know what would have happened if Phoenix Wright was left unchanged, it’s not a stretch to say that the nerf felt unnecessary especially so early in the game’s life cycle. For those that play UMvC3 or follow it, just imagine if Morrigan was buffed in that same patch. People were convinced she was low tier when the game first came out and now many deal with her endless fireball storms.

There are so many examples out there of a character, race, faction, strategy, weapon, and etc. that was thought to be weak or useless early on but proved to be useful or even powerful later on in the game’s life cycle or vice versa (strong turns out to be not-so-strong). Anyone remember Old T. Hawk in Super Turbo? Zerling rush in Starcraft? The list goes on.

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Imagine if this existed

In addition to patching games early without giving them time to evolve, developers need to be wary of putting too much emphasis on player feedback. It is true that the players, communities and sometimes play testers of these game ultimately determine how the game is played and balanced, but developers probably shouldn’t place all their faith in them.

“I feel like community feedback is important, but as a developer you have to be able to determine what about the game is good or bad,” said Lopez. “Fans will tell you, but they won’t be as objective.”

Players and communities usually have an agenda. They have their favorite characters and strategies and often want them buffed without consideration to the game’s overall balance.  Some Players also tend to blame imbalance when they lose to certain tactics and play-styles rather than their lack of knowledge or skill in the game.

“Nobody likes to lose and different people have different ways of dealing with defeat,” said Parbhoo. “Some people make excuses, others want to study their loss and prevent it from happening again.”

One very common occurrence in the lower ranks of competitive gaming is the equating of difficulty with balance. Characters or strategies that require fast hands and or hours practice to play effectively  are often seen as bad, while easy and obvious ones are seen as strong.  This leads to characters and strategies that go rarely used because it is believed they are weak or too difficult to use even though in truth they may be very strong.

As an example of  this, let us take a look at Street Fighter X Tekken.  The game received a large update in February called version 2013, which significantly altered the game’s mechanics and characters. The Tekken cast characters, such as Law and Jin, received significant improvements. In the current version of the game, Law and Jin are seen as two of the best characters in the game and Tekken characters are considered strong overall.

Some players, however, felt the Tekken characters were already powerful but under-explored in the previous version of the SFxT. On the flipside, the Street Fighter cast was heavily used due to familiarity and ease of use. Instead of allowing players to find strategies and tools to use these characters, developer Capcom simply “overall” improved the capabilities of the Tekken cast and toned down those of the Street Fighter cast. This may have simply shifted the balance of the game towards the Tekken characters, or other specific characters, rather than level the playing field for all the characters.

Another great example of this is the Protoss race in Starcraft II. The Protoss has historically been the endangered species of the game’s three races, the others being Terran and Zerg, in the world of tournament play. This leads to the perception that the race is weak to some members of the game’s community, though most pro players  know the race is strong but difficult to use at high level.

Unlike Capcom, Blizzard, wisely, has not let this under-use affect much of the changes made to the Protoss since SC2’s original release. More recently, Protoss players have been making waves in the World Championship Series tournaments, proving the race is far from extinct.

Additionally, Blizzard employs regular patches for Starcarft II but takes its time implementing big changes, making small tweaks that don’t necessarily change the fundamentals of the game.

“If the game is being minimally tweaked often, whereby most gameplay is unaffected then frequent patches aren’t much of an issue,” Parbhoo explains. “The key I think is making sure players feel comfortable that what they learn today won’t be irrelevant in a couple of weeks.”

Developers should get some tips from Blizzard before they listen to player feedback and adjust their games. They just need to stick to their guns sometimes and trust the choices they made or will make.

“It (early and frequent patching) shows developers are not confident in their own balancing and it trains the community to not deal with tactics.” states competitive player Tevin Fossett

Finally, there is something to be said about having faith in a game’s developers. The players may not always agree with the decisions game designers make, but in most cases the designers makes the decisions they make for a reason.

Ultimately, a video game is the product of the designers’ creative minds and brain-busting hard work. Yes developers can make oversights, but every game design deserves a chance before it is dismissed or changes are requested. Players should have a little more faith in developers, give their designs a chance and offer constructive feedback rather than spam them on twitter with demands for buffs or nerfs.

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Everyone wants their character buffed

Unfortunately, NetherRealm Studios is notoriously known for making both frequent and big balance changes.

“I think Injustice was patched too fast, too often and too drastically,” said Parbhoo.

The recent Injustice update is the perfect example as it patched the game about a month after release and nerfed Deathstroke, a character that top competitive players did not consider to be too powerful but many online players complained about. It also introduced a new and potentially broken character in Batgirl, further shaking up the balance of the game. Stage interactions were thankfully left unchanged aside from some bug fixes — a move I believe shows the studio’s confidence in that particular mechanic.

While other characters and mechanics feel overpowered or cheap in Injustice, developer NetherRealm Studios should probably take a wait and see approach before they patch elements of the game in future updates, while still having some faith in the decisions they make. Hopefully, players will do the same and give current and future balance updates a chance before they start whining on the forums. Wishful thinking? Most likley.

At the end of the day, when the consoles are off and the controllers are put down, players just have to work with what is given to them. If you like the game enough and have a passion for playing it, you will keep playing.

As Fossett wisely says “You don’t go to the doctor for every little thing. People need to learn to deal.”

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Welcome to the T-1000 Blog

Hello everyone,

My name is Frank Ambriz and I am the writer and editor for the T-1000 Blog. I am a senior at New Mexico State University seeking a Bachelor of Art in Journalism and Mass Communication. I currently have two Associate of Arts degrees: one in Mass Communication and the other in Game Design. As you might have guessed, this blog’s primary purpose is to allow me to publish some of my writings in hope that it will help me with my future career plans. If there are people out there that enjoy my blog, follow it and share it with friends, that is icing on the cake. That being said, I will be doing my best to update this blog regularly though I will undoubtedly be constrained by school and work.

As for the contents of this blog, I plan on uploading anything I feel is worth sharing or anything I am particularly opinionated about. However, the blog’s focus will be on entertainment media such as video games, films and books. As an avid video game player, expect most of the content to be centered around video games with a particular interest in competitive gaming. For more details on what I plan to post on this blog, please visit the about section. You can access all the articles I post using the top menu of the blog. They will be categorized under either Features, Retrospectives or Reviews.

A little disclaimer, I’m not the most technical writer around so it takes me a while to catch all the errors I make in my writings.  I often have to proof read them upwards to 10 ten times in order to catch the majority of the typos I have made. So please forgive me in advance and let me know if you do encounter any mistakes so I can correct them accordingly. Also, seeing how this is my personal blog, I will be utilizing my own writing style. I am very familiar with AP style and I will be trying to stick to it as much as possible, but I also feel certain aspects of that style are outdated and not intuitive. My use of AP style will be reserved for stories I write for other publications for now.

Thank you for your time and I hope you enjoy what you read.

-Frank Ambriz, aka T-1000