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I like Street Fighter. Street Fighter hates me. I don't know what I've done to hurt it so, but my patience is paying the toll. I give so much and get so little. I know it's my fault for being shit, but I'm also fairly certain the likes of Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong are robots. We should probably fear them.

Ever wonder why Capcom put out so many iterations of the same games? We have to keep them busy.

If you're good at fighting games this entry will probably leave you with something appropriating the warm, satisfying glow of post-match victory. I wouldn't know; losing will be a common theme here. See, fighting games live up to that old cliché of being easy to learn but hard to master. Once upon a time, young me and my brother would happily let Ryu and Ken throw punches at each other (before we inevitably started throwing punches at each other), without ever worrying what we were missing out on. That is, until puberty had finished mauling me and I purchased Super Street Fighter IV, looking for a jolt of nostalgia.

You see what they never tell you about that old adage is that once you begin to move away from the basics, and try to submerge yourself in its terrifying depths, your initial moronic enjoyment and modicum of skill disappear. You will always feel like you could be doing better, effectively ruining your enjoyment in an actual match, until you get better. You will overthink every input instead of just going with the flow, and therefore you will be even shitter than when you first started. This will remain until you build up muscle memory for the ridiculously tricky inputs. And there's no going back.

It might be quicker if I wait for this to become a reality

I should probably rewind a bit. I booted up SSF4 after I got it, and was soon pulling off hadoukens (hadokens?) and shoryukens with joy. This was impressive to me, since we had lost the manual to SF2 and had no idea what we were doing as kids. Then I started looking at move lists, and things got complicated. Excitingly so. Chains, links, kara throwing, plinking, cross-ups... it was baffling. After many online tutorials*, I felt well versed in fighting tactics. I even bought an expensive fight stick (worth it by the way). I was ready to get good at it. In theory, that is...

Pulling this shit off is hard. Seriously. To give you a picture of how hard, I should explain link combos. Combos (or chains) are when you cancel the animation of one move into another, giving the opponent no chance of blocking if they were hit with the first move. Not too hard, but bear with me because we're getting technical.

Linking differs from cancelling in that it requires the second move to come out at almost the exact moment the animation of the first ends, when the opponent is still stunned from the attack. Notice I replaced the word 'second' with 'moment' in the previous sentence; a second would be WAY too lenient. The animation frames in which the first attack ends and the second executes must be less than the frames the opponent takes to recover from the first attack. This can leave a window of one frame. SF4 runs at 60 FPS. You can have a sixtieth of a second in which to do this. It's not as soon as you can either, because the first move has to finish beforehand. How important is this? These links are almost always essential in any combo worth pulling out when you have an advantage.

Also, practice links until your head explodes.

To even have a chance of pulling these off in a match you have to plink (priority link), which due to some quirk in the game mechanics doubles your chance of pulling the link off, if you press a weaker attack immediately after the proper one. Again, split-second timing. Even the solutions are tricky.

Now, you may find all this fine and dandy in training mode, but for me combining all these tactics (I've barely scratched the surface, believe me) into one unified playstyle against another human is insanely demanding. I'm too busy trying to spot opportunities to actually act upon them; this has to be so ingrained upon you that it's virtually a reflex action. I see someone jumping at me? Quick, shoryuken! I've fumbled it! Fuck! Half my health bar's gone. There will be no such thinking for the pro; if someone jumps at them, an uppercut will be the automatic response.

You have to learn how to block effectively too. Your opponent will be doing the same, so you need to find a way 'in', to get the aforementioned advantage and pull off a damaging combo. This has to be done whilst maintaining your guard, so wild flailing is out and learning 'safe' moves is in. If you manage to get a combo off, the opponent will likely fall down or dash out, and you have keep on the attack to maintain momentum. Anyway, you get the picture; you always have to be on the ball and aware of all your numerous options. It's a constant cycle of acting and reacting, with no room to breathe. In case you couldn't tell, this is exhilarating.

To me it's like a game of speed chess on rocket skates, but to take a move you have to perform sleight-of-hand tricks perfectly. You have to be aware of both your's and your opponents spacing, anticipate their tactics, sometimes manipulating both, and react accordingly within real time. My loss record should indicate how out of reach this is for me, at present.

I couldn't find a picture that represented that last analogy, so here's a picture of a slightly disheartened puppy instead.

I've focused on Street Fighter here as it's arguably the most technical, but I'm loving the relatively less demanding likes of Blazblue and MvC3, as well. I'm still struggling with both of these too though, as my basic point remains. You know, the chess thing. It's basically comes down to a lot of practice, until all of these tactics just come naturally.

This all probably sounds quite negative, but I am loving it. Honestly. The satisfaction when you pull off these tricky manoeuvres is almost unparalleled in gaming. Against another human, especially a friend (or a certain spamming sibling) that's multiplied a hundred-fold. So, I'll keep plugging away in the hope that it all comes together, and I grab a few more glorious victories. The slow drag of progress is still tangible enough that I'm hanging on, much like learning the guitar (another source of frustration and satisfaction) or anything worthwhile, really. That does it, I'm not going to stop until I see this:

Was this post anything less than this? Sound off in the comments, then.

*Many thanks to VesperArcade's YouTube channel and shoryuken.com for their help, so far.

Wouldn't a rope bridge have been quicker?

Almost every game has a villain. Even a game as goal-free as Minecraft has to give some form of challenge to the player. So, excluding puzzle, sports games, and the like, mooks* are pretty much a given. But being the canny reader that you are, you know we're not here to talk about the lowly henchmen. We're here to talk about the big bad boss man. Specifically how they inform game design and structure.

Obviously, there has to be a reason why this army of disposables is momentarily impeding your inevitable path to the end. Not in the giving-the-player-something-to-do sense, but narratively speaking. The crutch that is historically used is to give them some master to obey, and give him/her some goal; thus simplifying the goals of the many to that of the singular. Bowser wants to keep Peach in the castle, so Goombas must walk at you. Robotnik built robots to kill things (I think), so robots are trying to kill you. Simple.

Might I suggest grenades, rather than fruit?

You traversed the world, killing drones as you went. This would usually culminate in a final boss battle, to round everything off and give the game a climax. That was the typical arrangement and it generally worked. RPGs would mix up the structure with their focus on story. There were crystals to collect or legendary swords to obtain, but it would inevitably end with an epic final battle with the Big Bad**.

However as games have inflated the importance of the story (or the inclusion of one, at least), the motivations of the bad guys have grown somewhat more complex or blurry, as have their organisational structures. You're now fighting legitimate armies, however fictional, often with multiple leaders. Sometimes you're not fighting anyone in particular, as with Rockstar games.

This complicates game design. Your path to the boss is no longer a straightforward infiltration into the bosses lair; there are now multiple things that must be done to save the world. Think about the jump-cut pacing of Call Of Duty, or the numerous complications and setbacks in Gears Of War.

This is a good thing injecting some lovely variety into the world of games, but with it comes some withdrawal symptoms; a hangover from our collective gaming history. Why are we still relying on the Big Bad to conclude the game?

In some cases it's baffling. General Raam from the first Gears Of War had virtually no bearing on the story; his killing of a (minor) character was employed to insert unnecessary final boss material into the game. Ditto Colonel Radec in Killzone 2 (just removing flame bait there). Story-wise these make no sense but, even worse, these hugely popular games (FPS/TPSs) often don't work with the boss formula; fiddly and annoying does not equal an epic, satisfying conclusion. So why are developers still relying on these final boss encounters, if it just doesn't fit into the story or the game?

Quick, get him! He's present at the conclusion!

While the otherwise wonderfully designed Uncharted 2 has an (SPOILERS!) unnecessary, somewhat annoying boss battle to kill off Evil Russian Terrorist Man, it's true conclusion is in it's heart-pumping shootouts and set-pieces (when escaping Shambhala); you know, the stuff the game is good at. Why include Lazarevic in the gameplay at all? Red Dead Redemption had the right idea; using it's dueling mechanic to finish the baddy off. Unfortunately this may limit this method to westerns; just look at some of GTA's 'bosses'.

Street thugs: now with military-grade helicopters.

Some games have shown a different way, with bad guys integral to the narrative, working within the game. The aforementioned Red Dead Redemption, generally avoids an obvious Big Bad (employing Multiple Bastards instead) until the end, when a reason to kill them presents itself shockingly well. Red Dead Redemption's twist near the end meant you were baying for blood by it's true conclusion. God Of War 2 and 3 set up their final confrontation so well, with the entirety of the games focused on the concept of revenge and Kratos being on a trial of retribution, that (SPOILER ALERT!) pounding Zeus's face into a puddle is enormously gratifying. They had also set a precedent of great boss battles; its mechanics were made for this sort of stuff.

A marriage of gameplay and narrative is integral to games to your enjoyment; see Xenogear's second-disc-O'-cutscenes for proof. If the concept of a Big Bad or a final boss battle just doesn't fit, think of something else. It's possible; I've seen it. Why bork it at the end because you can't easily think of anything else? Now to finish this blog post you must destroy this guy who I've just arbitrarily inserted to inject some sort of finality into this endeavor.

Aim for the weak spot!