Negative Feedback Makes Me Rage

What do you think of the rage mechanic in smash 4?

It’s irritating. If there weren’t multiple stocks, then I’d outright hate it unconditionally.

Rage is a knockback multiplier, similar to weight. As you gain percentage, you deal more knockback, which also means you deal more hitstun. Damage in Smash Bros increases knockback, so by dealing damage to your opponent, you’re giving them rage, which increases their knockback, much as if you had taken damage. Effectively, by hurting your opponent, you’re hurting yourself, thanks to rage. (Actually, I think rage multiplies knockback more than percentage does, so you’re hurting yourself more than you’re hurting them)

If games were played with only one stock, this would be awful. It would literally mean hurting yourself in the process of getting closer to victory. Conflicting goals are frequently helpful for encouraging depth, by giving players the challenge of prioritizing goals situationally, but here you have a conflict between literally making progress towards winning and making progress toward losing. You want to hit your opponent to push them closer to losing while avoiding being hit, to avoid being pushed closer to losing, but oddly, you also want to be hit because that accomplishes the same thing as hitting them. Hitting them does give you a positional advantage and puts hitstun on them, so hitting them is still better than getting hit, but this is still a really weird conflict.

This is Negative Feedback taken to extremes and it can somewhat fuck up player’s directional heuristic. We know that players tend to die at high percentages, we know how much knockback we tend to deal to players based on their percentage, but rage makes that calculation a lot more complicated, because now you can kill people who are at much lower percentages if your percentage is really high, so it’s hard to tell when you’re really at kill% or not, and whether you’re winning or losing the match based on just percentages.

A player can deal a lot of damage and feel like they’re winning, but then their opponent can reverse it easily if they’re not killed using the temporary positional and hitstun advantages that attacking grants. This is like a ganondorf player whose strategy is to intentionally trade stocks with their opponent via suicide kills. They’re pushing the match closer to its ending, but without gaining an advantage in the process. Negative feedback like this makes it so events at the start of the match and mid-match are less important than what happens at the end of the match. Competitive Game Shows like Jeopardy use this tactic all the time, multiplying the points awarded as the program goes on so that the winners of the final rounds have a larger influence on who the overall winner is than the winners of the early rounds, which has the effect of allowing comebacks in later rounds (but also allowing a lead in the early rounds to help out later on).

Thankfully, matches are not played with one stock, they’re played with two stocks. So if you can manage to kill your opponent, their rage gets reset and you now have a lead on them, especially if you kept your percentage low so you’re not close to losing your next stock. This also leads to a light snowballing effect where if you can hang onto your first stock for long into your opponent’s second stock, then you can use that to combo them better, rewarding players for good recovery skills. However if both players are on their second stock, as tends to happen more often than not, then all the problems above apply, same for when both players are on their first stock. So most of the time you’ll be playing with this comeback dynamic, except when there’s a stock disparity and it becomes a slippery slope factor until the disparity is evened.

Traditional fighters tend to work where a lead is simply a lead, especially ones without super meters or comeback factors, like Street Fighter 2 before SSF2, or Tekken before Tekken 6. Comebacks are possible in these games, but rely on the player who is down winning consistently over the player who is ahead. Most fighting games tend to have a light positive feedback, slippery slope, effect, where the winning player builds up super meter faster than the losing player, giving them extra resources to harm the losing player with. Games like Marvel Versus Capcom have more overt slippery slopes, where killing an opponent’s character will reduce the opponent’s capability to fight back, and give the attacker a chance to attack their opponent on incoming, opening them up to lose even more health. Some fighting games have comeback factors, like SF4, Tekken 6 and beyond, MVC3, and SFV, but these tend not to be as direct as Smash 4’s rage. They don’t grow your damage output in direct proportion to how behind you are, usually providing strong temporary options when behind instead, like a one-time use super attack, a more powerful mode that is stronger based on how many characters you’ve lost, or some type of strong one-time utility move.

Rage in Tekken 6 and beyond is similar to Smash 4 rage, giving you a boost to attack power while you’re below 25% health, but since it’s not a proportional boost and is only applied once, it doesn’t have nearly as hazardous an effect. If you’re one hit away from death in Tekken 6 it doesn’t mean your opponent is also one hit away from death, like would be the case in Smash 4. This also has to do with Smash 4 using knockback instead of health.

Negative feedback exists to prevent players from getting a lead, because lame-duck situations are bad. Lame duck situations can be prevented by making sure that attrition is not guaranteed, and no player can gain too big a lead (so applying negative feedback proportional to only disparity, rather than being close to losing, like Towerfall Ascension does, is a clever strategy).

When negative feedback is really strong, it makes it so players cannot gain leads over their opponent, only push the match closer to ending, then try to win the final exchange. Negative feedback can help mitigate the effect of positive feedback (this is the intention of X-Factor in Marvel), but can be just as big a problem. Positive feedback tends to place a lot of emphasis on early events in a match deciding the outcome, negative tends to place more emphasis on later events deciding the outcome. People dislike being incapable of coming back, but they also dislike having an apparent lead nullified. Smash Bros has a slippery slope in its damage percent rising over time, but it resets this slippery slope every stock to prevent leads from becoming too great over the course of a match.

In most games, comeback factors or slippery slope are different types of advantages than just direct damage buffs. By making them not directly proportional buffs to the number of victory points you gain, it introduces strategization and tactics around the use of these slippery slope or comeback factors, which adds depth to the game and help preserve a lead being a lead, and the directional heuristic being able to accurately assess who is ahead at any given time. Marvel has X-Factor, which is a power-up that is temporary and acts as a one-time cancel for any action. Tekken 7 and SF4 have Ultras and Rage Arts, which are a one-time attack option that has high priority and damage, but are also highly punishable.

Chip damage in Street Fighter is a way of forcing a small amount of attrition on the opponent. SFV removed the ability to chip opponents out, except with super, so you can no longer force attrition on an opponent to make them lose when they have no health, making it more possible for a player with a magic pixel to make the comeback. In older SF games it would make their defensive capabilities weaker, so their ability to win exchanges was reduced, but they still had the options necessary to always win exchanges, it just wasn’t weighted in their favor. If the opponent throws fireballs or uses rushing moves, you can jump them, which allows you to avoid damage from them and deal damage to your opponent, but it’s a lot harder to avoid being hit than it is to simply block. If your opponent gets a knockdown when you’re at a magic pixel, then in most games, that means you have no option to survive, since they can use that advantage to force you to block. In 3rd Strike or Guilty Gear, there’s Parry and Faultless Defense, which can give you options to make it an extreme disadvantage situation rather than a lame-duck situation, where you’re still playing, but have no chance of winning.

So, you probably want to make every part of a match count for something. You don’t want the beginning or end alone determining who wins. You want to prevent attrition from creating lame-duck scenarios. And you want to prevent disparity from getting too wide, not preventing leads altogether.

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