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Killer Instinct

Microsoft, please stop desecrating Killer Instinct

5:00 PM on 06.19.2013 // Wesley Ruscher

There's still hope to save this iconic franchise

Dear Microsoft,

Please stop making Killer Instinct look like, as our own Jonathan Holmes put it, “a mash-to-win, noob-friendly combo fest.” I've played your game -- even had a proper lesson from Double Helix to help understand all the advanced systems that are in place for fighting game aficionados -- but your recent showing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has done nothing for the cause.

Sure, mashing down repeatedly on the buttons against an opponent brand new to the game may result in limited success and look kind of cool on-screen, but what good does it do for your game when you're slapping buttons like a five-year-old playing whac-a-mole at Chuck E. Cheese’s?

I understand that the majority of the Late Night viewership may not be hardcore fighting game fans, but if you wanted to show off spastic button pressing then why not show the opening moments of Ryse? Oh right, violence.

What you should be showing off is just how accessible the new Killer Instinct; how it’s being built with gamers of all skill sets in mind. It’s the one thing I took home with me more than anything from E3 after talking with senior producer Michael Willette and design director David Verfaillie from Double Helix.

“One of our big pillars is accessibility, not just in combat,” Willette said. “We want people that aren't your typical fighting game people to try out Killer Instinct and get to know it at their own pace. We want to give people more options to get involved with the game.”

Nothing relates to this better than the game’s pseudo free-to-play, digital-only delivery model. Something that caused a sea of confusion during E3. Then again, much of what came out of your mouth during the event left more than a few people scratching their head. The brief mention of it being free during Late Night most likely opened another door of bewilderment to a whole new audience.

Simply put, one fighter -- the serene buddhist warrior Jago -- will be available at the game's launch with all game modes included for non-paying players to mess around with. A sort of full-access demo, for lack of a better term. Why was that so hard to say upfront?

It’s not a bad idea at all. A way for gamers both old and new to get chance to taste Killer Instinct without having to make a full financial commitment. From here, if players enjoy what they play they can decide how much they want to spend on the game. Like one character you fought against, then purchase only that character. Or, purchase everything that is available with a season pass.

Will you screw this up? Will you nickle and dime us? Who really knows. It's been announced already that there will be collector's edition tier passes (most likely costume variants) though what they exactly entail is still under wraps. With the path you're headed on there’s a strong indication this will be a cluster f*ck of confusion. But hey, at least Double Helix is hopeful to make this Xbox One exclusive into the next big thing.

“The more the community gets involved with the game, the more seasons we'll have and the more stuff we'll have to play around and have fun with,” Willette said.

Now I know I'm coming off a little negative towards Killer Instinct. In reality, I'm pretty hyped about the game. Sure, I wish the it was coming out on Xbox 360 instead -- where there’s already a huge install base -- but hey, Xbox One is better than nothing.

Looking past all the commotion of the pricing model, what really has me jazzed is the core mechanics of the game. For starters, combos are easier to initiate than in previous games -- and no, I don't mean by mashing buttons.

Take Saberwulf, for example. In the past his basic move set for launching combos was charging a direction (typically back) for two seconds then pressing the opposite direction with punch or kick. This has now been altered to a quick back then forward motion with punch or kick. No more charging needed to initiate.Taking away the charging mechanic opens up the accessibility to newcomers. It doesn't detract from top-level play, but the barrier to become better is greatly lowered. Pretty cool stuff...right?

Additionally, skill level will play a bigger role in maximizing damage output in combos. Auto doubles allow for a fast and easy way of linking together moves, but potentially dish out less damage than the same combo that was linked using a more difficult to execute manual link.

Series classic combo-breakers have also undergone a change that requires more than just timing to execute. Combos can only be broken now by pressing both the punch and kick button simultaneously that corresponds to the strength of the combo being executed. For example: Press both medium buttons to break a medium combo. Learning animations and your opponents patterns will play a bigger role when it comes to breaking combos.

There will be a pretty in-depth training mode, according to Willette -- about 40 lessons or so.

So why show the game off on two national stages with button mashing and some poorly-worded trash talking? Double Helix seems pretty hyped on what they've created.

“I think the training mode is going to please a lot of people,” Verfaillie said. “It will literally take you from never have played a fighting game to being competent in Killer Instinct. And then there’s a whole other set of advanced levels where we go into stuff like resets and other high-level things.”

Willette even added a juicy tidbit about the games practice mode.

“We're going to put stuff into our practice mode, stuff the fighting game guys want. You're going to be able to turn on hitboxes, you're going to be able to see what your inputs are. Being able to see where your frames are active and what they're covering... it's going to be huge.”

Again, pretty cool stuff.

Listen, it’s not too late to save Killer Instinct. You've got a team with fighting games in its background: Weaponlord, Street Fighter 2 Turbo, and Skullgirls. Sure it's a team with a lot to prove, but so was Rare when the company made Killer Instinct 19 years ago.

Evo, the one place the fighting game community will be in troves, is right around the corner. It’s the place that can make or break the game.You're showing off Glacius and announcing a new character; a perfect chance for damage control. Just do me a favor and don't f*ck it up.

Wesley Ruscher, Former Contributor
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