Sunday, March 31, 2013

Modern Day Fighting Games, A Beginner’s Nightmare

When the first Street Fighter IV was released, I remember inviting a bunch of my friends to come and play. Most of us were familiar with traditional fighting game inputs of quarter circles to pull off specials like hadoken’s but one of my friends never played fighting games at a younger age. So he was at a disadvantage since he didn’t know how to properly input the moves. It’s obviously no fun when you can’t pull off moves and end up losing most of your matches. However after everyone had left, he stayed a bit to try to learn some moves for the next time. I started off showing him how to do simple hadokens and the super hadoken. After awhile he was able to pull it off in the practice mode and decided it was a good time to leave since it was getting late. I knew however pulling off a move in practice is much different then actually being able to pull it off in a live match let alone knowing when to properly utilize the move to your advantage. There is also the fact that he doesn’t know how to properly link the move into a combo which would be whole another lesson. That’s when I realized that current fighting games are something that needs to be simplified.

Let me first start off by saying that I know all the hardcore fighting gamers are probably going to be screaming out the idea that fighting games don’t need to be dumbed down for casuals. Simplicity in a game does not necessarily mean a lack of depth. Simplicity just means reducing the barriers of entry for newer player who may not have a background in the genre. As it stands current fighting games are geared towards veteran players who are already familiar with the basics. Thus newer generation of players are less likely to stick with the series.

The first thing I see as problem is the complex inputs needed to pull off a simple move. A simple hadoken motion requires the following inputs: down, down-forward, forward and a punch button. By it self it doesn’t seem too complex to pull off and in reality it’s very simple. However if you want to incorporate it into a combo you need to start adding in some punches before which increases the required number of inputs by two, not counting if you want to start off in a crouching stance. The combo is starting to get more complex but it is still manageable. If you start looking are more complex combos in the latest Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition (I’m wondering what else Capcom can add to make this title longer, maybe throw in a 2.0 after edition), a 5 hit combo can require 7 different moves which is a lot more than 7 inputs plus precise timing required to execute successfully.

Another problem with the fighting genre is the need for pure memorization of full move sets. With enough practice someone would be able to memorize move sets and would be able to input them with ease when they need to. However the amount of time needed to get to this point just doesn’t seem worth it to me. I’m all for the idea of the more time you spend the better you should get at a game but for me it seems like fighting games require the most amount of time to get very little gains. Again this problem stems from the complexity of the actual gameplay which requires large amount of time commitments.

As a fighting game series matures, the gameplay becomes fine tuned with balancing characters, increasing movesets and creating a fluid experience. However the tutorial or practice modes rarely ever receive any new options or significant upgrades. Developers have added in some missions where the player must perform specific combos that vary in difficulty but this is pretty much where innovation ends. I would love to see a training mode that allows you to have specific moves on the HUD and indicate if the move was preformed correctly. I know Tekken (one of my favorites series) has a training mode where you can pull up moves but it would be great if there could be an option to show you what you did wrong or let you know that you hit the move with some sort of confirmation sound. Surprisingly the best practice mode I have ever seen was found in Tekken Dark Ressurection for the PSP. It allowed you to select any of the fighter’s ability and then every time you execute the move it would give you a confirmation. Unfortunately Namco didn’t bring this feature into the new releases of the Tekken franchise.

So far I’ve laid out problems with the way fighting games are evolving. I’ve stated earlier that simplicity does not translate into a lack of depth. An example of this is the Super Smash Brothers series which simplifies the gameplay mechanics to a few buttons. Super Smash only features two attack buttons, a jump button, grab button and a shield button. The directional inputs are basically the 8 direction plus an attack button. There is no need for doing quarter circle motions since everything is just a direction plus attack button. There are still combos to perform and they still require skill and coordination to execute perfectly. So we can see that even a simplified fighting mechanic still requires some depth and knowledge to perform well but doesn’t rely solely on memorization for combos. Also since every character has pretty much the same input commands it is much easier to learn new characters after getting used to the speed and power of each. I don’t expect developers to out right copy everything from Super Smash but using some ideas would help improve the fighting genre.

One thing I would love to see in new fighting game is a stronger online community that would be promoted by the developer. The developer should create an online environment that is friendly towards new players in order to retain an active online community. One way to do this is to set up a mentorship program where a veteran player who knows the mechanics can play with a novice and teach them on a one on one basis. This would help new players learn some of the hidden mechanics which only veterans would know and help on a more personal level such as specific areas that the new player needs to work on. They can even integrate this mentorship program into the online menu as a possible option instead of just the generic ranked and player matches that is usually available. Creating an active online community that generally wants to help new player is crucial to the longevity of a game and should be a priority for most online games.

I know most of my ideas towards a simpler fighting game seem to go against all the competitiveness of the fighting genre but I feel like it would create a better experience for more people. Obviously series like Street Fighter and Tekken won’t abandon their tried and true formula but new intellectual properties should experiment with a simpler fighting mechanics. If I were to develop a fighting game I would try to keep it as simple in order to make it easier to pick up and just to have fun even if the person is new to the series.