Competitive Games Without Patches

Do you think the immutability of Melee and other classic vs. games is bad? What is your stance on the constant patching that esports games undergo?

I think there’s a tradeoff in patching. There’s a lot of tradeoffs actually. When you patch, obviously you can make the game better. You can bring it closer to perfect balance. The downside is, you upset the meta every single time you patch. If you patch really frequently, then performing well at your game is just about finding what everyone else is suffering against. Too many patches too fast will literally kill a game competitively, both because people can’t keep up, and because it’s impossible to observe how your changes perform if you’re constantly patching and never playtesting.

This happened with Brawl+. They updated nightly, and people couldn’t keep up, so everyone quit giving a fuck.

Other downsides are that characters that players like might become irrelevant, then it’s like they put all this time into the character, and now they’re trash. Sometimes you nerf characters and people don’t like the nerfs.

Beyond that, the advantage of never patching is it allows players to learn what’s there really thoroughly, should they decide to. Every time there’s a patch, players go back to surface level stuff, because that’s what’s most influential on victory, the big things. In Melee, we’re still having new tech discoveries and tier list shifts 15 years in. And 15 years from now, players will have the same game to come back home to.

Another arguable advantage is it keeps the list of viable characters small, so players don’t need to deal with a billion matchups. They can focus really thoroughly on only a couple. It means less character counterpicking and more of people sticking to their favorite, especially if they know that pick won’t be going anywhere.

This won’t happen for every game. Not every game has potential like this. But it is something that can happen. That’s why modern competitive games are spacing out their balance patches into seasons. SFV is patching once a year from now on. Overwatch is going with every 3 months. If you patch at random times, then you make it difficult on players.

I just want to add that bad balance isn’t bad for competitive players. Competitive players are fine with bad balance. It makes it much easier to pick a character and stick to that character. Bad balance keeps things simpler for them. I’ve spoken with some people (who play multiple fighting games) who have remarked that having a smaller viable cast is actually a good thing for games like Melee.

The downside of having a large viable cast is it becomes matchup wars. I covered this briefly in the last post. People end up picking up a bunch of characters and winning just because they have the right counterpick. Changing characters might seem hype to a more new player in a game with a small viable cast, but in a well balanced game it can be irritating to a more experienced one who can no longer viably play just the character they specialized in.

Shouldn’t players that only play one character be punished for doing so? Why should the game cater to poor behavior? It takes less effort on their part and it makes the game far more boring for spectators.

Yeah, that’s what less experienced players tend to think. I don’t think specializing in a single character is a poor behavior.

It’s nearly impossible to totally iron out all the matchups to 5:5 status, so a tendency of more balanced games like SF4 and PM is that players pick up a few characters so they can prey on the bad matchups for other characters. This means you can pick up easy advantages at the character select screen and rather than working through hard matchups, people tend to just switch. This means people aren’t playing characters to the fullest potential, and also that the game is kind of reduced to blindpick RPS25.

Of course, I like PM, and I liked SF4, even if it was my least favorite street fighter. I love having a ton of viable characters. I like having a wider viable cast, but it ends up as just matchup wars sometimes and that’s not as interesting to see or play because you’re not playing at your best. This is a minus, but it’s not an overwhelming minus. There’s no real means of mediation here, it’s just a tradeoff. You get more characters, but need to contend with going into bad matchups more frequently.

That and realistically, given how much investment it takes to master a single character, players shouldn’t be expected to know multiple. Being able to choose a single character and stick with them should be a viable option more than playing practically rock paper scissors with character select.

Then, what’s the point of non-viable characters in a fighting game? Is it merely that roster size is a selling point?

From a practical or competitive point of view, there isn’t really a point to them, but people like large rosters, as you said. Developers don’t always know what’ll end up balanced in the development process, so sometimes you get characters that are just left over. If you get a viable cast of 8 characters, then that’s usually pretty good. Most old fighting games didn’t end up that balanced though.

Basically one thing that can happen is the devs make a bunch of characters, they don’t know where those characters will necessarily end up out in the wilds of tournament play. A lot of characters will end up discarded, but if they can manage to among those have about 8 that are viable, that’s pretty nice.

What do you think is the perfect size for a fighting game roster?

I don’t have an opinion on a perfect size, but if a game ends up with 12 viable characters, that’s great.

I think the upper bounds of what should be feasibly attempted are about 30-40 characters (only because Project M did a really good job). Once you get to about 50-60 characters, balance becomes nearly impossible to achieve. There’s too many parts that need to be aligned with one another, it’s like this gif:

I think a more reasonable number would be 23 like GG Xrd Revelator has. The Guilty Gear and Blazblue games have always had really good balance and really good character designs. The current version of Blazblue has 28 characters. AC+R has 25. I think this indicates that low-mid 20s are the sweetspot range.

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