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Fighting Games and Familiarity

[EDIT: I was informed that this was unreadable; once I finally saw it on my page, I noticed that the font was invisible somehow, so I tried to fix it. I hope you can read my rambling nonsense now]

(This blog was inspired by the recent furor over Smash Bros. and I wanted to add my two cents to it, but while also discussing the fighting game genre as a whole. I'm not all that good at getting to the point sometimes, so forgive me if I tend to ramble on a bit.)

(I also want to preface this by saying that I am not in any way, shape. or form a serious competitive player, least of all in Smash Bros.; I only play fighting games casually, so I apologize in advance if I flub up anything at all about any of them. Please understand.)

Before I go anywhere else, I want to say that I find it sad that in the world of Smash and what it should or shouldn't be for whoever wants to play it, that there is absolutely no room for a middle ground compromise: the new game for Wii U and 3DS (to the competitive player) really does have to be Melee with new characters or it will be abandoned FAST, before the end of the year even. I also want to point out that this is hardly a new concept, but only as it regards to this community in particular that they will completely disregard any sequel that doesn't play precisely like the previous game. Sure, they'll give this new game a chance, but given that people are already analyzing what can and cannot be done, I give this game in its current state a month (if that) before the competitive community goes back to Melee and stays there.

I've been around long enough to know how things go in the FGC; this is hardly a new concept. Street Fighter III was shunned upon its release for numerous reasons: dropping every character except Ryu and Ken being the biggest one on the surface (and original plans didn't have them in the game either, believe it or not), and the other being that parrying completely changed the effectiveness of standard projectiles, and I'm pretty sure that wasn't an accident. Tekken was also big at the time, and that factored into it too, but it took YEARS before Street Fighter III was praised on any level for its complexity (which brought another problem; it was too complex for its own good, and it scared off new players completely. To this day, Street Fighter III is only played by the hardest of the hardcore as far as I know).

When Street Fighter IV dropped, I knew many players in my scene at the time that HATED it because it wasn't SFIII and it simplified things. They despised the entire concept of Ultra combos because it was a comeback mechanic that fighting games prior to it (outside of older SNK games) simply didn't have. "Street Fighter EX4" was a common derisive comment thrown at it, which is kinda funny to me since Focus Attacks are in their own way, a refined version of the Guard Crush attacks that the original Street Fighter EX introduced. But those players (who I still talk to on a regular basis) NEVER embraced Street Fighter IV, but instead of going back to Street Fighter III, they simply found different fighting games to get into instead (they like the NetherRealm games and Killer Instinct, for example). They just admitted that they weren't into the style, and moved onto something else.

Personally, I like that in the realm of 2D fighting games, that there are basically five different types in the wild right now, and each has their own strengths and weaknesses:

1. Street Fighter IV, which emphasize mind games, zoning, poking, and footsies over ridiculous mobility. Combos are usually simple enough for anyone to execute, but the more advanced techniques do take quite a bit of time to master.

2. Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which is all about picking the right team to compliment each characters' strengths, and being able to shutdown the opponent's movement options and/or execute touch of death combos (in fighting game terms, a touch of death combo is one that does 100% damage on the opponent, regardless of how much health they have). A common criticism/complaint about this game is "if your opponent has a chance to play, you're doing it wrong".

*SkullGirls is sorta cut from this cloth, but it's far more controlled (characters can't fly, for one), and there are systems in place in order to prevent stupidly easy touch of death combos as well as infinites.

3. The King of Fighters, which is (in my opinion) the most technical 2D fighting game on the market today. There are four different types of jumps, evasive rolling, and a run. Long form combos require very strict timing, and having to manage two different meters means that you may not necessarily have access to all of your attack options at the same time.

4. Arc Systems Works games, also referred to (with affection or scorn depending on who's saying it) as "anime", "airdashers", or (and this is always with derision) "weeaboo" games, have a very Japanese art style, insane movement options (most characters in these games have insane midair mobility, including double jumps, air forward and backward dashes, and sometimes triple jumps), and flashy, over the top super moves. Every character adheres to a universal set of rules, but certain characters are also governed by another set of rules unique to them (such as Rachel's Sylpheed meter in BlazBlue, Zato-One's Shadow meter in Guilty Gear, or Junpei's baseball HUD in Persona 4 Ultimax). To the outside observer, these matches look incredibly chaotic, but they were deliberately designed to emulate flashy anime fights.

5. NetherRealm games/Killer Instinct, or games made by western developers. Usually, every character has the exact same jump arcs and other movement options, with the only variations coming from their actual attacks. Combos are emphasized, but implemented differently, and in the case of Injustice, stage hazards come into play (and unlike Smash Bros,, some degree of control is usually involved to interact with them and aren't the result of random events).

With very few exceptions, most players that specialize in one type of these games do not migrate to others, unless the player has EXTREMELY good fundamentals that can translate to other games. Justin Wong and Chris G, for example, play games from groups 1, 2, and 5, but not 3 or 4; KaneBlueRiver, another tournament player, plays from groups 2 and 3, and sometimes 4, but not 1 or 5. Nearly everyone who plays Arc Systems Works games ONLY play Arc Systems Works games; same with NetherRealm players. Most Killer Instinct players also play Street Fighter IV.

There's something to familiarity; little rules can change as long as the fundamentals remain the same. A sequel to a game that brings large sweeping changes to the way the game is played usually don't last long in the competitive scene; you're more likely to set up a tournament King of Fighters '98, for example, over King of Fighters XI, a KOF game that had a MvC esque tagging system as opposed to the format it usually had. KOF XI wasn't a BAD game, far from it, but people found it overly complex (one independent reviewer tore it about XI assholes because he hated having to govern two meters, one of which you have NO control over how it filled up), and KOF XII went back to the original format.

(That KOF XII was an obvious beta is another subject for another time.)

Now, assuming I haven't lost any of you yet, what does ANY of this have to do with Smash Bros.? A lot, actually.

See, every game I've mentioned so far was designed to be a super competitive affair. Now that's not to say that Smash CAN'T be that, far from it actually; I know far too many people who ONLY play the game that way. But the problem is, at least how I see it, Masahiro Sakurai didn't design Smash Bros. Melee to be what the competitive scene turned it into.

I don't think Sakurai wanted this series to be what Melee (and Street Fighter III) became: a game that only the hardcore tournament players could play the way it was intended to. A Street Fighter III player with any rudimentary knowledge of parrying and EX special moves and the like could completely obliterate anyone with no knowledge of those techniques. And while the default response to this is "GET BETTER NOOB", the reality is most gamers will just quit and play something with a lower bar of entry. In 1996 (when Street Fighter III first came out), people frustrated with that game just played Tekken instead.

(It also didn't help that Tekken was available on PlayStation while Street Fighter III literally could not be ported there; that sort of thing would be unheard of now. In fact, Street Fighter III didn't see a console release until the Dreamcast. In 2000. Most people I knew preferred Tekken 3 and Soul Calibur by that point.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making the game super technical for the competitive crowd. Just as long as you understand that by doing so, you are limiting your audience. There is a reason why Street Fighter IV is always the main event of FG tournaments: not only is it the most accessible, it is by far the most balanced fighting game out there, where every character, in the hands of a skilled player, is capable of winning. A different character has won EVO every year, from various "tiers". By contrast, KOFXIII is only played by a very small set of people, and the effectiveness of EX Iori and Mr. Karate (DLC characters, by the way) means that nearly every high level team has at least one or both of those characters in it. And as much as I like Arc Systems Works games, those games have a very defined tier list, and characters from the lower tier characters (more often than not) simply do not have the tools and resources that are NECESSARY to beat a high tier character. ESPECIALLY in BlazBlue; Litchi and Azrael (the two characters in EVO's Grand Finals) are high tier characters. Not the highest of the high tier (Kokonoe and Valkenhayn outrank them on the list, last I checked), but they can compete with them. Compare them to say, Makoto and Bullet, who simply do not have the tools to hang with any high tier character REGARDLESS OF THE PLAYER'S SKILL LEVEL (skill levels, obviously being equal).

Again, sorry I've gotten off track, but bear with me.

Competitive Melee players want familiarity with what they know, and a certain subset of them (based on a petition I saw a while ago), want that in the new Smash game, AT THE EXPENSE OF ACCESSIBILITY FOR NEW PLAYERS. Their logic being, who gives a damn what casuals want, they'll buy the game anyway; cater this game to the community who's kept a freaking GAMECUBE GAME relevant for the last 13 years. And on some level, they kinda have a point.

I've had negative thoughts about the Competitive Melee community (and I don't use the term competitive Smash because really, they only play Melee) in the past, but not only do I actually kinda agree with them on this point, it's made me do a 180 on my way of thinking on the entire subject. Someone like me, who really doesn't give a damn about high level tournament play, is still going to play the new game (hopefully with people who don't take it so seriously this time), possibly while drunk, and do all kinds of crazy stuff with items and whatnot. If the competitive community wants all their competitive technique, why not let them have it? I mean, online play is already going to be segregated between the two camps; why not have all the advanced tech the tourney guys want if it's not going to have any effect on the way I play the game if I can avoid them online COMPLETELY? Hell, Street Fighter IV is simple enough for new people to get into it without it being completely intimidating; the same thing can happen here. All it needs is a very detailed tutorial explaining advanced techniques (and if I can be completely honest, Street Fighter IV NEEDS that, too. That's one thing they HAVEN'T done).

Normally, I'd emphasize barrier of entry over complexity, but Smash Bros. has one thing over traditional fighting games: IT DOESN'T PLAY LIKE ONE. Because tournament Smash is literally governed by a completely different set of rules from casual Smash, it really is like playing two completely different games. And Nintendo is FULLY AWARE OF THIS: why else would online play be segregated into "For Fun" and "For Glory"? As far as I'm concerned, the fact that this is even being done at all means that they know the competitive community exists, as well as how they like to play, so why not give them what they want if they can keep it within their own community?

Far be it for me to tell Sakurai how to make his game, because we all know how he feels about THAT, but for once, the competitive community does have a point. Maybe some of them could be more tactful (and more respectful in general) in getting the point across, but they do have a point. Let them play the game they want to play; I'll still be able to play mine.

Everyone has different tastes. Maybe one day, we don't have to be so vitriolic towards the people who don't play a video game the same exact way we do.
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About Xziannaone of us since 5:35 AM on 05.03.2011

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