Emo Kid Special Moves (Self Harm)

What do you think of special moves in fighting games that damage the player when they use them?

I’m not a fan of mechanics that push both players closer to losing simultaneously, negative feedback. Mechanics like this could also be called Collateral Damage or Mutually Assured Destruction. The idea is, you’re taking damage, but hopefully you deal more than you take, and even though you’re wrecking yourself, you will push the game closer to ending faster and be on top when it does end.

You can think of moves like this dealing effectively less damage, since they’re damaging you at the same time, so you’re not gaining as big a lead over your opponent by using them. So if I deal 4 points of damage to you, and 1 to myself, I only really dealt 3 points of damage to you, but moved the game 1 point closer to overall conclusion. This can tend to make games more swingy, because it functions a bit like negative feedback. It also makes characters with this trait effectively weaker than characters without it, unless their damage is compensated for the damage they deal to themselves.

In a game like Smash where the amount of damage you can take isn’t capped, and isn’t directly tied to losing, this can work out slightly better, because you can continue to use the self-destructive moves ad infinitum, just taking on additional damage, instead of outright killing yourself. I take this tactic with Snake a lot. He can pull out grenades and go suicide bomber with them, and you blow yourself up a lot, but hopefully you blow the enemy up more often. Also when coming down, you can pull out a grenade and if the opponent hits you, it will cause you to drop the grenade. If they hit the grenade too, then it will explode, damaging both of you, and overriding the knockback of their move, usually for a lower knockback, which can help you survive a lot of hits. In this way you can evade death at great personal cost, while dealing damage to the opponent as well. Since there isn’t a fixed percentage that you die at in smash, you can abuse this a fair amount, and use it to turn the tables on your opponent (though of course, you come out a lot worse in that trade than they do).

Overall though, I think adjusting payoffs in this way doesn’t contribute significantly to the depth of a game. It doesn’t strongly differentiate the game states in my opinion the same way changing the physical characteristics of moves does. I don’t think Pichu is significantly more interesting for damaging himself, I think it’s largely pointless. Even if it is a cool touch for characters like Tien in DBFZ (and it works mildly better in DBFZ, because killing a character is a much bigger benefit than just getting a health advantage, so it can be a tradeoff of orthogonal assets, rather than strictly victory points).

One thought on “Emo Kid Special Moves (Self Harm)

  1. C.J.Geringer March 4, 2018 / 3:17 pm

    I think this analysis is a bit shallow.
    Yoshimitsu was one of my mains in a significant percentage of SC and tekken games

    For starters Self Damaging moves change the risk/reward dynamic since the consequences of a whiff are increased. So without skill full use they are actually more harmful to the user. There are even attacks that only cause self-harm on a miss, they are an extra way of rewarding player skill..

    In most fighting games Hitpoints are little more than error affordance, they basically cap how many errors you can be punished for before losing.
    Self Damaging Moves allows one to use hit points as a resource.

    For example do you play Magic the Gathering? There are some Magic players(specially centred on black) who basically say that if you win the game with more than one life point remaining you haven´t made optimal use of your resources. Self-damaging moves allow for this kind of thinking when strategizing.

    You say:

    “So if I deal 4 points of damage to you, and 1 to myself, I only really dealt 3 points of damage to you, but moved the game 1 point closer to overall conclusion.”

    But moving the game towards the conclusion can be very significant:

    For example if Player A has 5 HP and player B deals 3 damage, A still has 2 HP and can keep fighting and maybe win. If B makes a move that does 6 damage to the enemy and 3 to himself, B will win the fight. So to extract their full value a player needs good game state analysis skills.

    This aspect can became even more significant in games where low hitpoints enable buffs or special attacks.

    Secondly while increased damage is one way of balancing Self-damaging attacks is not the only one.

    For example in Tekken Yoshimitsu has a self damaging-dodge. Basically Yoshi can deal a small amount of damage to himself to avoid bigger damage.

    Mitsurugi´s Murasame in “Soul Blade” deals damage to Mitsurugi in exchange of doing damage through an opponent’s Guard. Similarly, in Tekken Yoshi has attacks that bypass an opponent’s guard. This can severely disrupt the strategy and mindset of an enemy who leans on his blocking skills to win.

    In “Garouden: fist or Twist” (Which is a brilliant game, and the best “Health as a resource” Fighting game I have seem) a lot of the mind games deal with locational damage: If player A breaks Player B´s Arm, B loses a chunk of Morale(which substitutes the traditional life bar), and gets stunned for a while which allows A to land even more strikes in B. However if Player B deliberately breaks his own arm with a self-harm move then B is not stunned and does not lose morale.

    If the game allows the player to recover health there is even more possible interactions.
    Once again taking Yoshi as an example, he can sled-damage AND Self heal, so a Yoshi player can go all out with high-damage-self-damage attacks when a opportunity presents itself, and lather fight defensively for a while by self-healing(IMO it is very hard to self-heal against a skilled opponent so I don´t think it is unbalanced).

    I remember one Match I fought in SC4 against an opponent that was really good at parring my attacks, and I managed to win with a combo that started as self harm because the first step of the combo is Yoshimitsu thrusting the sword at himself. Basically he tried to parry my attack when I was hurting myself so his parry failed and I manage to punish him.

    There is a lot of design space in self-harm moves, especially if one thinks beyond simple HP damage systems.

    For example Soul Blade had Self-harm moves that did not deplete HP, instead depleted your weapon bar.


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