One Year in Vampire Arcadia: A Beginner's Journey
By: Lion's Eye (Patrick Walter)
If you couldn't tell by the size of your scrollbar, this is a long piece. This won't be for everyone, but I do encourage you to read it as you may find something to your liking. It's as much about fighting games as it is about a personal journey. It's heavy and thoughtful. It's a little self-indulgent and at times embellished. I'm not a big name in the community (yet) and this is mostly for new or newer fighting gamers to consider. But, if you have the time and are still interested, as I said, I encourage you to keep reading.
Beginnings are just as important as endings. Having been a passionate writer for almost seven years now I know this better than most. The first sentence must have just as much impact as the last, and all those in-between. It takes a lot of time and effort to make this happen. More than that, it takes passion, patience, imagination, and most important of all, belief in oneself and what you're doing. It takes a reason, or, in some cases, more than one. It takes many things, even friends, and a failure can be just as meaningful as a success. This too, I have learned, applies to many endeavors in life, including, of course, fighting games. And it doesn't matter whether someone is on the outside or the inside of an art, a profession, a trade, or a competition, people will always find reasons to diminish what it is you do. In our world the common phrase is some variation on, "It's just a game." And it is, just a game. But then again, having already spent a year in this community and having only just begun, it really, really, is not just a game.
All That Color and Sound
I had no idea what to expect when I first went to Arcade Legacy. Back then I didn't even realize an arcade could work on another system besides coin-op (Arcade Legacy is a one time pay and you're in). My only prior experience with any sort of arcade was back in the nineties around the time the culture began to decline. And my only experience with fighting games was a vague sense of what they were, particularly Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Back then I thought I was something special if I could do a combo over four hits. And a fatality? The best.
Nowadays I know different. And going to Arcade Legacy (located in Cincinnati, Ohio, if you don't know) for the first time was a half-lesson in humility. I only even got there due to a lot of coincidence and a helping hand. I was working at a game store at the time and had heard and read of a game called Blazblue. Supposedly it was pretty good and it piqued my interest just enough to try it out. So when a Collector's Edition copy was traded in I grabbed it. I jumped online as soon as I got home and promptly got my ass kicked for three straight hours, but what kept me there was the game itself, and the company I happened to find in the very first lobby I joined. It was there my fighting game career more or less began, but didn't really start. I played the game pretty frequently with those friends I met in the lobby for several months before we burned out and moved onto other things, occasionally playing together over the years, but it wasn't until Marvel Vs Capcom 3 came out that we got back together and started playing again, and, after listening to their stories of traveling to various minor and major tournaments, I considered going to some myself. One of them suggested starting small, and directed me to an appropriate local thread on SRK. There was even an arcade associated, and it was within driving distance. So I went there one dark and snowy Thursday night for Fight Night, a weekly get together, uncertain but believing maybe I'd show these guys a thing or two and walk out perceived as a champion among men.
That, as you can guess, did not happen.
As I said, the night was dark and snowy. Quite so. It was slow going and even when I got there I missed the place several times. All in all it took about an hour and a half to two hours for a thirty minute trip. I waited a bit when I got there then walked in, nervous as a kid going to school on the first day, and was immediately engulfed by color and sound. There were bodies moving, lights flashing, and people shouting. It was exciting and intimidating at the same time. I paid my fee and asked if there was any Marvel going on. I was directed to the back of the moderately-sized arcade and went there and did what most newcomers do, that is to say, watch and wait for someone to ask if you wanted to play. It happened and I played and promptly realized I was not quite as all-powerful as I thought I was. I was not the glowing angel descended from gaming heaven to teach all these pitiful fools just what it means to be a true fighting gamer. But I did okay and I had fun all the same. I came back irregularly for awhile after I quit my job at the game store then just stopped for about a month (missing Powerup 2011) before finally making the decision to go every Thursday. I played more Mortal Kombat 9 in those days and even started to help run tournaments. I watched my first EVO there. I learned what the hell this game called Windjammers was all the kids were talking about and even got pretty good at it. I also occasionally heard some strange guy stalking around like a lizardman out for a meal shouting at people for reasons I couldn't discern. There was a lot of noise, but what saved me initially from his shattering siren of a voice was I managed to only half pay attention in spite of his volume alone demanding more. I mean, this guy was crazy, right? Who does that? He was the loudest thing in an enclosed space of loud things. And what the hell did he want? Then one day I found out it was for a tournament he was running each week for this game called Vampire Savior. I didn't know what it was, but I entered anyway. What could it hurt?
I'm probably lucky I never really got acquainted with the traditional fighting game franchises back in the day such as Street Fighter, Marvel Vs Capcom, or King of Fighters. If I had I imagine transitioning into Vampire Savior would've been much more difficult than it was. In fact I know it is from others who've done it or tried to do it. Instead, my largest hurdle in the early goings was learning how to play on stick while simultaneously learning about a game I hadn't even realized was just the Japanese name for a game I already knew about in English. While most of the scene, including the tournament runner, was away eating, I signed up (he had left behind a sign-up sheet for the tournament, easier and more inviting than being yelled at by some stranger, I thought) and sat down to look for a character. I immediately found Gallon AKA Jon Talbain AKA The freakin' Wolf Man! And he knew martial arts! In my mind, I'd made my choice.
That was the easy part.
To be honest, I don't remember a lot of those early games. I was partly nervous, partly struck with awe at those who could play it well, and partly constantly seeking ways to improve. A friend (Apocryphic Visions AKA DR4GO) taught me the combo system early on which helped me immensely and I picked up things here and there from others like DaddyNeptune and King Chadwick. I was also given the nickname "Mad Dog" among others by the tournament runner due to my highly aggressive style. Back then there were actually two tournaments, one called "Stay Free," for all the newcomers/low level players, and "VMP" for the guys who, as the tournament runner put it, "Got it." Anyone in Stay Free who "got it" was moved up to VMP for a higher level quality of play. And you got a fancy nickname.
Validation would be mine.
Over time, during my training and playing I got to know the others who would at one time or another take the game as seriously as I would, including Sluch, Fleshpounder, Volkan, Ailerus, Actionhank, GZ-Matthias, King Chadwick, DoragonKoroshi, Mini Maww, RadicalEdward101, Groovyness, Slayer, Osirun, Yettighettoslang, DaddyNeptune, others, and of course the TR himself, Kyle Wattula. Without them and without the others who came later, and especially without Kyle, not only would I not have gotten to the point where I am now, but neither would our scene. It could be argued, but our growth was made that much easier for it. And I am very thankful for that, and them. For even just having an arcade where we can all gather and an owner who is cool enough and courageous enough to make that happen.
If you'd like to see where we were back then, here's a video (this video is farther down the line, but it's still about 6 months out from Powerup and it does give you an idea of where we were back then), I show up at the 13 minute mark:
No, we weren't great, but we were still passionate, and that carried us a long, long way, and it still is. I saw others win tournaments, get promoted, win more tournaments, and I was still stuck down in "Stay Free." I wanted to win, I wanted a nickname, I wanted to be one of the guys. I did not want to keep improving only to lose and know I'd still be stuck in "Stay Free" when I came back.
And I did keep coming back.
If you don't know anything about Vampire Savior it's a fast-paced, momentum-based game with characters based on classic monsters and myths that relies on chains instead of combos, has air-to-air blocks, and is one of the most balanced games (at least as far as balance can go) I have ever played. It's also a game I have yet to grow bored with, and something I'm still learning about even after one year. Every character is unique, interesting, and for the most part, well-made. The game even displays "Cheap Finish" on the screen and boos you if you get a chip kill. How awesome/hilarious is that? Give this game a try, people. There are plenty of options (some of which will be named in this article and others after) and you won't be disappointed.
The fighting game experience does not end in the arcade or at the venue either. Eventually, having become better and better friends with some of the guys, I began to hang out with them outside of the arcade. Mostly at Kyle's place where he hosted Vampire Savior get-togethers for more training and fun. And it was, in spite of playing on Sluch's tiny laptop, Kyle's odd stick, and all being crunched together in one small room sitting on chairs that were at one time comfortable but hours later began to feel like concrete slabs. There was food, there were plenty of terrible (see: great) jokes, and above all, I was getting better. Learning more, feeling more confident, and finally one day, I did get promoted along with Sluch, Fleshpounder, and Osirun. I don't think at the time any of us had won Stay Free, but we were all doing better and Kyle had decided we were at a point where we would benefit more from participating in the higher level tournament than remaining in a doldrums. And we would get to play more too, since VMP was a round robin and not a double elim. Not only that but it felt good to get promoted amongst friends, rivals, like graduating from high school to college. Vampire Savior High: Class of 2011.
And from there things picked up. I was again nervous, and again excited. Ready for new challenges, fully prepared to learn just how far I still had to go. This was the Big Boys' League and I was here now and it was time to step up. So it went. I took my beatings and got better for it. I began to understand the potential my character held. A good comparison is Chun Li from Third Strike; Gallon holds the same status. He has long, quick normals, a jump arc that can evade certain attacks other characters can't, can duck under attacks most others can't, has several great jump-ins to choose from, and that's just the start of it. Of course I was spoiled in this by having Kyle at the arcade, and the arcade itself, and Skankin' Garbage (perhaps the best wolf player (right now) in America) on the Dustloop Vampire Savior forums. And I could see my improvements play out in-game. I also saw the potential of the other characters, even the lower tiers, and why this game is as balanced as it is. RABCs (Random Ass Beast Cannons) and Option Selects quickly became my new favorite tactics in those days. RABCs because as a scrubby wolf player they're a pretty safe fallback move that's also exciting and flashy and basically turns Gallon into a DBZ character. Plus, the ES version can hit five times and deals out significant damage. And it's a hard knockdown that leads to interesting okizeme setups. In low level play just throw this move out and see what happens. Just trust me, it's awesome. The Option Select was and is good too as it's easy to set up and nets you either a command throw with tons of invincibility frames, or a safe close normal that hits people who try to jump out of it. It's great actually, but it's not as thrilling when you're new. Even if you drop the RABC it's still cool because it's out there.
My rivalries were growing too, not least due to the fact the guys on the other side were getting better too. It's not something you ask for or look for, it just sort of happens. It can be friendly or cruel, but if you get into competition it's going to happen, and you should embrace it. It not only makes your matches more exciting (and occasionally frustrating) but it makes you better too. It gives you extra motivation to get better. Some of them still persist even today, and will remain so across any game we play. I also rediscovered just how angry I could get at losing so many games.
In the beginning, when just starting out with a new game, I feel like I have nothing to lose, so I just play and I have fun and joke and that's it. When I start to get more into it though I obviously become more invested and when it doesn't pan out I feel more or less worthless. If you haven't guessed yet I have confidence issues, and those along with my temper problem, emotional nature, passionate demeanor, and the fact that by this time I still hadn't been able to find another job (I was still living with my dad), just did not add up well. No excuses but these were the circumstances. I once or twice even hulk smashed the cabinets we played on and walked away feeling my anger boiling up out of a poisonous well. What this did not help was my learning process at all. Getting angry is acceptable, getting so angry you take it out on a machine that has done nothing but accept your sloppy inputs is not (except for that one time when it really was the machine's fault). There were frankly times I didn't want to see people. I got so invested I began to feel entitled to wins, began to feel if things didn't go my way something wasn't right. And if I lost to a rival? That was the worst. And I developed this bad habit of dropping matches I had significant leads in. Overall, I began to feel worse and worse. Not all the time. And my constant exercise helped to keep me level a lot. But on days when I didn't or on my worst days, I built an unsavory reputation, to say the least. Thankfully, I was mostly quiet about all of this, but I never said "Good games," didn't smile, didn't laugh, couldn't even enjoy what I was doing anymore. There were even a couple times I apologized to someone for slapping their hand away or just being a whiny jerk about losing. And even one point where I seriously began to doubt I'd ever get around the wall I kept running up against, began to not believe I'd keep improving, and for the first time I even spoke about this with some of them. Their words were truthful and encouraging, but I was still unsure.
However, I still kept going back and still kept trying to get better. You might even say I was desperate to win. That I needed it to feel worth something. So I kept trying, kept fighting once the anger faded and kept putting my pride on the line. One of my better qualities is my ability to endure, and at the end of the day I'm not going to give up, even if I gave up for the rest of the day. I'll keep going, keep trying, keep fighting, to a fault. And, I can take a lesson away from anything. So that's what I did, and I continued to get better. I was finally able to DP from the one player position, started staggering my offense, found a method that allowed me to tech hit consistently (the more buttons you hit while blocking the more chance you have to advance guard them, all the way up to six for 100%), eventually got over my difficulties on the two player side (playing on one cab as a big-framed guy sucks), and overall figured out more of what makes Gallon such a great character. I started going to the money tournaments held every so often on Saturdays, met more people who played Vampire Savior such as Avi, Zinac, Sketch, SonicSpear64, and more, including Kajoq, the best Lei-Lei player in America right now. There were others who started playing as well such as 2KNL8, MurderByDeath, Bonclyde, Steel, and Servo. And all the people who only showed up for one or two tournaments such as TheRedCyclone or Neon Geon. And some who left for various real life reasons such as Volkan, Slayer, and 2KNL8, all of whom came back at one time or another either temporarily or permanently. Thank goodness I didn't have one otherwise I might not be where I am right now.
Back then if I managed to place 9th I felt good about myself. I saw what was going on at the top of our scene and was constantly impressed. I saw the others I'd graduated with continuing to improve too, and the others who'd come after us. There was a lot of back and forth back then, me and Fleshpounder, Sluch, Osirun, and others too. And my goal eventually became just to get a positive score. I'd seen Sluch do it a few times, even win or tie for first in the round robins (Q-Bee is a fair and balanced character), but I kept ending up in the negative. I even had a nickname I liked picked out for when I did. In my eyes I was earning it.
Finally one day I managed to get even. And all it did was make me hungrier for a positive record. I was starting to beat more people and to be more competitive against the best our scene had to offer. I learned about GGPO, which is a great, if flawed tool for playing Vampire Savior and other games at home that otherwise wouldn't be available, and even practiced a bit there. I was trying to do better with my attitude too, made even more friends, but was still coming up short. By now I could consistently hit full ES Beast Cannons and I was starting to work on dealing with Gallon's major weaknesses such as his predictability and character style lending itself to recklessness.
Then one day (about five months after I'd started) I had it, a record of 6 and 4. It wasn't the greatest record, but it was mine. I'd finally done it. After what felt like a great period of darkness, a long stretch of failure and growing despair, I'd achieved my next big goal. And I had my nickname: VMP Positive. Originally I had some more serious ones picked out, but I liked this one better. And for once I felt like I belonged in the VMP group, I felt like I was a real competitor. And I felt like I could go even higher.