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8:50 AM on 08.15.2013

The Evolution and Life Cycle of Fighting Games

This is part 2 of my look at fighting games and the culture surrounding them. Part one can be found here. This primarily focuses on Street Fighter since it is the most widely known and is timely with the announcement of Ultra Street Fighter 4, but the concepts apply to most successful fighting game franchises.

So we've gone over the reasoning behind the unconventional naming that some fighting game brands use as they grow and evolve (and why it is not the horrible practice that many portray it to be), but what I have not touched on are the reasons behind why there tend to be so many iterations and expansions of successful fighting games. I feel the primary factors behind the evolution and expansion of a title are as follows:

1) Business purposes
2) Player adoption
3) Fan demand
4) Inherent competitive structure and balance

Let's take a deeper look at each of these now. Starting with:

1) Business Purposes:

I figured I would start with the business behind the games since I feel this is where there are a lot of preconceived notions (some perfectly reasonable) and that it just needs ti be said: games are a business. The companies that make fighting games are not releasing them without the intent of making money. This is 100% true. Where I do disagree with many people though is in the sense that these companies (mainly Capcom) are just re-releasing the same game to gouge more money out of consumers hands.

Sure, there are downloadable expansions that cost money from time to time, but as I touched on in Part 1 of this series, they are really now different than your standard DLC for any mainstream game. I also argues that since the lifespan of a fighting game is significantly longer (SF4 is going on 5 years while many AAA games get yearly iterations at full price + DLC packs) the cost of staying current is significantly cheaper than it is for many other titles.

If the developer/publisher was really looking to price gouge the consumer, there would be no downloadable options. They would only release the updates on discs and would charge full (or close to) price each and every time. This was why there was a legitimate concern of this issue when Capcom made the jump from Vanilla (original) Street Fighter 4 to Super Street Fighter 4 initially. It was a disc only offering not even a year after the original release that cost $40.

Despite there being some potentially justifiable reasons behind the move (additional characters, balance changes, modes, new ultras for every character), Capcom recognized how poorly the move was received and every add-on and expansion since has been downloadable. If they really wanted to gouge the consumer they would keep doing disc only releases and as a result they would chase people away. That is far from good business practice and is exactly why they aren't doing it.

2) Player adoption:

Every major update (as denoted by a name change, new characters and features, and being a paid DLC rather than a free patch) brings the opportunity to draw new players into the game. It keeps the game in the news and in the public conscience. This gives the franchise a chance to gain players and expand rather than just be stagnant with the community it has already built. It also doubles as an opportunity for existing players who may not have played recently to jump back in and get excited about the game again.

A fighting game lives and dies based on its player base and the community built around it. It is not uncommon for a game to release and the community plays it feverishly for months dissecting every characters moves and properties. Eventually someone stumbles on a strategy or move that is extremely effective and seems invincible. What then?

Typically when there is a potentially overpowered move, strategy, or character, the players will usually take it upon themselves to try and find a way to beat it. This will typically lead to an evolution in play style of the game and its mechanics among the players, but occasionally there is just a character that is too powerful. Sure, there may be one or two characters that have a way around the overpowered set up, but if half of the cast is basically rendered useless because they just can't compete then something needs to be fixed. This brings me to.....

3) Fan demand:

The fans will always discover glitches or exploits that the testers and designers never dreamed of. It's is fairly well known at this point, but for anyone unaware of it yet, the combo system that was revolutionary in Street Fighter II was a glitch. The developers did not intend for it to be there. Fans discovered it though and it completely changed the way the game was played and the way fighting games were made from that point on. It was revolutionary, all by accident.

As such, fans will also find those things that are completely broken and overpowered in a game. When this happens and it is clearly an issue (and not just something people haven't figured out how to deal with yet, there is a difference) then balance changes need to be made. Fans are typically very vocal about these issues when they are potentially game breaking. Capcom actually stated they had no plans to further iterate on SF4 after Arcade Edition released, but fan demand and passion has kept the game alive and evolving.

4) Inherent Competitive Structure and Balance:

Now, many people who don't really concern themselves with the competitive aspect of fighting games won't realize this, but to people who play a lot of fighting games a significant balance patch can completely change the meta-game (the mind game between the players and the strategy behind how you play). Changing the priority, hit-boxes, frame data, and other properties of a few moves per character can render a previous combo or game plan completely useless while creating the potential for brand new ones.

Thus the period of experimentation and discovery begins all over again. This time faster than before though since it is being built off of the knowledge that players already learned. This is the primary life cycle of a fighting game. Eventually one of two things will happen that will end this cycle. Either the game reaches a level of balance that is deemed to be good enough where the majority of characters are viable in competition and no one is so far better than another where some are rendered useless or the publisher/developer moves on to the next iteration of the series or just stops supporting it entirely.

Typically the last possibility only happens if the fan base and community dies away and stops playing the game. The one that occurs most often is that a brand new game is released that the company decides to focus on instead, but thankfully in the case of Street Fighter every new numbered entry has used a completely different system than the games before it. That takes time to develop and create from scratch. In the meantime while we wait for a proper Street Fighter 5, SF4 continues to grow and evolve with the support from both the competitive gaming community and Capcom.

Five years and stronger than ever. How many first person shooters or single release sports games can claim the same? Not too many.


12:27 PM on 08.07.2013

What's in a name? A Street Fighter and Fighting Game Analysis Part 1

We've all heard the joke before. Capcom makes an announcement involving a new update to a Street Fighter game and everyone comes out with their best over-zealous and superfluous name they can think of. Super Alpha Omega Street Fighter Ultra 4: Gaiden! Well, as gross as all the updates may appear, I'm here to tell you that it is far from. In fact, it is better for everyone involved to do it this way.

Historical Context:

Obviously Capcom and the Street Fighter brand have a history of this kind of thing. It really came about as a symptom of one of the arcades biggest strengths. When arcades were more popular worldwide it was not uncommon for developers to release various versions of a game. They would put the game out to the public, gather data on how it is being played, tweak the code and then swap a new build into the machine. This was especially useful for competitive games like Street Fighter 2 as people were learning new ways to break the game and some strategies or techniques were deemed to be too powerful.

In arcades, this was nothing new and was no big deal. You just included a piece of text on the title screen declaring what version the machine was running and that was that. The rise in popularity of home consoles changed everything though. No longer could they just swap out upgraded versions. Whenever there was a significant update (major balance changes, new characters, supers, turbo, etc...) Capcom had no choice but to release a new console version to get it into peoples homes. In the interest of sales and public awareness, this was done through name changes.

The Current State of Street Fighter:

So now we come to the past month and the news of Ultra Street Fighter 4 being announced for release in early-mid 2014. More specifically, this follows on the heels of a statement from series producer Tomoaki Ayano stating that Street Fighter 5 may be as many as five years away yet. Immediately the jokes and claims of gouging the fan base for money were voiced by many. Personally though, this is one of the more encouraging pieces of news they could release. Sound crazy to you? Well here's why.

The Title Change is Nothing More Than DLC:

You may not realize it initially, but the title change does not constitute a new game in any form or fashion. In fact, it is just the equivalent of a version number displaying on the bottom of an arcade screen. The core game and engine that is running behind all of the updates is exactly the same. In fact, they have only changed the name when there have been significant upgrades in the form of characters, modes, features, balance changes, backgrounds and costumes.

I have heard people complain that balance changes have been locked behind a pay gate. This has only been the case on 2 occasions: the upgrade to Super and the upgrade to Arcade Edition. Both of those instances were accompanied by many of the changes and enhancements listed above. Every other instance of balance changes and patches have been completely free.

So what am I getting at here? With the exception of the jump to Super Street Fighter 4 (which I will admit came too early and the lack of a downloadable DLC upgrade can be viewed negatively) all upgraded versions have been available to download as DLC for the Super Street Fighter 4 disc. They are not new games. They are no different than buying a map pack for a shooter or an additional dungeon in a JRPG. The only difference is the name change.

As far as price gouging and milking a fan base, the upgrade to Arcade Edition cost $14.99 at time of release. That's about the same as a full map pack for a Call of Duty game. The main difference here; by the time Ultra releases, it will have been two years since that upgrade. Where as modern AAA games that release map packs and DLC for the same price are then going to release a brand new game the following year rendering the previous game (and its DLC) practically obsolete. $15 every two years doesn't seem so bad now does it?

Perception is Everything:

So why all the negativity to this announcement? I feel as though the perception of the name change being a new game creates a much more negative stigma than is really warranted. When you just view it as DLC for the existing disc, not only is it very reasonably priced for the fans, but it also has much more longevity than most modern games do. Rather than buying a new $60 game each year to stay current over the course of five years, you could buy Super Street Fighter 4 (which was $40 at release) and the two upgrades (AE and Ultra) for $15 apiece in the same time span. $300 for the AAA title versus $70 for SF4 doesn't seen too bad (add $60 if you started on the original release and you are still under half the cost of AAA).

As for why I feel it is good to update and support Street Fighter 4 for more years rather than put out Street Fighter 5, you'll have to check back later.   read

8:54 AM on 08.05.2013

Gaming with VagrantHige

I've been planning on getting a c-blog going for a while now and have been debating about what kind of topic to go with. Thankfully, this months Bloggers Wanted seemed to be the perfect segue to branch a specific topic as well as an introductory blog. So why putz around it any longer, let's get to it.

     I started gaming when I was 4 or 5 years old with my parents and an Atari 2600. As such I have always loved playing with others in person, jawing and joking with each other and generally trying to do just a little bit better than the person on the other side of the sticks. I would try my hardest as a kid to break just that one extra block in Brick Breaker or collect that one extra treasure in Pitfall to make my mother's score lower than mine. It was fun and was a great way for my mother and I to bond while I was growing up (I still can't beat her at Tetris and her level 1-99 run on Columns is still recorded on my Genesis carts high score list).

     Throughout school my closest friends and I were always playing games. So much so in fact that when we were told to go outside and play we got an extension cord, two chairs, and a table and took the entire tv and game setup outside.... they told us to just get back in shortly after noticing our shenanigans (best game of Contra ever by the way). I'm not gonna lie, we got really competitive sometimes. You'd be amazed at how much surprising depth there is in the clubbing event of Caveman Games for the NES when you search for it. The beauty of it all is that there was a group of four or five of us that were evenly matched and that made it even more fun.

    Nowadays however, I don't have that immediate circle of friends that I can always play off of to get better at my games of choice. One of my best friends and I had pledged to get better at Street Fighter 4 together. We would play sets when we got together and I was putting in work when I was home. Eventually I started improving more than he was (I mainly say it's because Balrog is a lot easier to learn than Adon personally) and rather than try to learn how to deal with my new moves together he decided to just give up (even getting so upset he "swore off fighting games"). This really made me stop and think about how I play games. Am I too competitive?

    I learned a lot about his frustration by going through it myself around the same time. My fiance is an avid Tekken player. She could constantly kick my ass with a myriad of characters (Lily, Asuka, Jun, Jin, the list goes on). I'm a 2D fighter kind of guy and I really wanted to learn Tekken to play with her so I started actively researching techniques for my characters (Lars and Miguel). I've gotten to the point now where I can take a few rounds here and there, but by and large she is going to destroy me four out of five times. This used to drive me crazy to the point of wanting to just put the control down and walk out of the room at times.

     Why though? Why in the world should someone just learning a 3D fighter be able to just up and beat someone playing it for the last 6 iterations over the course of a few months. It just isn't reasonable, but I couldn't accept it. Maybe I'm not competitive so much as I am a perfectionist expecting way too much out of myself right away.

    After realizing this I decided to play for enjoyment more than anything else. I still like having that competitive set of fighting games with friends or online, but I try not to let myself get to invested. It still sucks to lose, but that is going to happen from time to time. I'd rather have fun and goof around than push people away by being overbearing and annoying at this stage of my life. I've learned to enjoy the learning process of fighting games and learning with someone else (or teaching) more than trying to win all the time any more and that has made me a much better person to play games with. Will I try to win though? Absolutely. Maybe, just maybe though, I'll keep the score close rather than try and blow you out of the water every time. 

    A tip though for everyone who has friends or family that complains about you being "too good" or "always winning". Rather than just sandbagging a match or two to "make them feel better", actively give them tips to get better at the game you are playing. They will start to get better bit by bit which will in turn help you to get better as they start pushing you more. This is what makes competitive gaming with others so much fun. Oh, and watch out for zombies.


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