Mashing: Rote Memory vs System Mastery

Many players of fighting games and beat em up games start out by mashing. When you have 2-6 attack buttons, it can be hard to tell the difference between moves, so you might as well press buttons and hope something good comes out. A better player will understand when to use each move, but a worse one will see a large movelist, say “nah, pass” and just mash it out.

Some games are designed to actually facilitate and reward this type of mashing, games with strings (a sequence of unique moves activated by pressing buttons in a specific order). By mashing the buttons, you’ll accidentally end up doing all sorts of moves, and since neither you nor your opponent has any idea what you’re about to do, that makes you unpredictable, and ironically more effective in a genre that is advanced rock paper scissors.

It’s easy for intermediate level players to shut down this sort of play by simply blocking and waiting for an unsafe move to punish, or by throwing out “knowledge check” moves that require a specific counter (you can also call this spamming). However among beginners, it can allow them to develop a surprising level of basic competency at the game. They might be throwing moves out randomly at first, but sometimes they see something cool happen, and remember the feeling in their hands when they got that, allowing them to iterate and repeat it. Also helpful is these games list the strings in the move list, so beginners can learn a string as easily as checking.

For many beginners, these strings are literally what combos are. They’ll call them “combos”, not knowing there’s a larger combo system in the game. In a way, this is really helpful for beginners, compared to other games, because strings don’t involve tight timing, and are listed right there.

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Tiers are for Queers

And the queers always pick a top tier.

Tier lists have been controversial since the dawn of fighting games, and have slowly seeped into every other competitive game featuring pre-game or mid-game loadout choices.

From a casual perspective, it can be easy to be skeptical of tier lists, especially in modern times. Casual players typically don’t play the game consistently enough to be able to execute the counters that can shut a low tier character down.

Alex in 3rd Strike might be scary to someone who can barely block crossups, but a higher level player can simply parry option-select Alex’s crossup stomp, tapping exactly as it connects, and either getting a parry if it’s same-side, or a block if it’s crossup. Urien might seem mediocre, since he doesn’t have incredible frame data, his specials are slow or unsafe, and have crappy hitboxes on top of being mostly charge moves, but when his moves are mastered, he has ridiculous combo damage and setups into unblockables.

A higher level player can play Chun Li, Ken, or Dudley, and simply tank Alex’s slash elbow, or block the EX slash elbow, and punish it with a super. Chun Li can get roundhouse kicked in the face by Q, and then punish him with super art 2 for more damage than the roundhouse.

These types of weaknesses aren’t as obvious at low level, so it can be hard for lower level players to understand the true shape of the game.

The fact that characters are different from one another means that some will be better against others. They’ll counter each other. If a character counters a lot of other characters, especially if it’s by a wide margin, then that’s a top tier.

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How do you Set the MAXIMUM LIMIT? (For Health & such)

Almost every game has resources of some type or another, whether that’s health, mana, meter, etc. A topic that is rarely discussed with these is: Exactly how much health should you have, and how much damage should stuff do? What should your resource limit be, how much should stuff cost? How fast should it be built up? The decisions made in each of these can significantly affect the tone and feeling of something.

The most critical technique for thinking about this problem is thinking in percentages. The actual values can be arbitrary, but percentages help you keep track of the actual impact. A combo across different games could deal 8000 damage, 120 damage, or just 6 damage, and in each case, that could be worth 90% of someone’s healthbar. Thinking in percentages helps you weigh the relative impact of something, without getting bogged down in the exact numbers.

This type of thinking also suggests thinking about the resource in terms of how many times it can be tapped before it’s extinguished. If each touch deals about 10% of your health bar, a game will have 10 touches before it’s over. If a touch can deal up to 80%, then it’s a 2-touch game. Consider the range of variability between how much impact each touch makes as well.

In Card Games, instead of touches, it’s measured as a “clock”. The clock is how many turns a player has left before they lose the game. In real-time games with fine-grain health and guaranteed hits, this type of thing is measured in DPS (Damage Per Second) and/or TTK (Time to Kill). In these cases, it’s worth considering what tradeoffs a player should be making in order to get a faster clock, or a lower time to kill. It’s also worth considering how fast the average clock for a match should be, or what the average time to kill is across the game, and watching out when those things end up lower or higher than you originally planned.

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The Hypothetical Worst Fighting Game

I have a theory about fighting games. I think that even the worst fighting games are pretty good. We see this in the Kusoge Phenomenon, where people play “broken” “shit-games”. These games have massive combos, wacky mixups, poor regard for balance, strange damage scaling or infinite prevention, and strange attack design with cancel points and hitboxes that don’t really make sense. However people still enjoy playing them, because they’re still deep games. They’re still games with combo systems you can explore, with mixups you can try out, and with moves that have a variety of different effects. This is a mismatch between what we traditionally consider to be “good” about games, and what actually creates depth.

Street Fighter 2 created the modern fighting game, and all fighting games take from it. SF2 was such a solid template for a game that if you just implement all the features of SF2 you will have a decent fighting game, entirely by default. I’m going to list these features as:

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What’s the Deal with Auto Combos?

Many modern fighting games have been integrating auto combos for the past 10 years or so. BlazBlue Cross tag battle and dragon ball fighterZ have auto combos on 2 different buttons even.

An auto combo is a string combo attached to a single button. Pressing that button will produce a sequence of attacks that combo, some of which may be unique to the auto combo sequence. Sometimes finishing an auto combo will produce a super attack if you have meter.

Auto combos have historically been controversial because they’re so much easier to perform than other combos, giving players who don’t know how to combo access to easy damage.

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SF6 is the Intro Game the Genre Needs

Street Fighter 6 is the “Beginner’s First Fighting Game” I’ve been looking for.

I’ve been harping on for years that fighting games shouldn’t be getting easier, they should do a better job teaching you how to play them. We’ve seen some improvements in tutorials over time, such as Skullgirls, Xrd Sign & Revelator, Under Night In-Birth, and Them’s Fightin’ Herds, but all our most of the above have been brief system tutorials for the most part with very little on fighting game fundamentals.

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Emergent Gameplay in Fighting Games

A bunch of different videos have popped up lately in fighting game circles, about “Emergent Gameplay”. I’ve watched a number of them and they’re grasping at concepts they can’t totally describe. They use a lot of vague terminology and almost say what they want to, but not quite. The gist is, old games had Emergent Gameplay, new games don’t, but why?

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How Fighting Games can Retain Players

Fighting Games don’t attract a lot of new blood. The majority of people who will buy any game are people who will never attend a single tournament for that game, never post about it online, and never interact with the community in any way. This means for a game to be successful, pushing a competitive scene isn’t very effective advertising. The success of a competitive scene is tangential to the success of the game overall. Magic the Gathering went through a similar transition when they catered to pro players, and the game was slowly dying. They ended up revitalizing themselves by building their product, the cards, into a stronger IP, and decreasing their investment into the pro scene, which was not the product they were actually selling. Wizards of the Coast called the non-competitive players, “the invisibles” because they can’t be observed because they don’t participate in the broader community, yet they make up the majority of the consumers, and this is the case for every game or media product. The majority of fans will never ever participate, but they’re the ones who are the backbone of your sales.

Changes of this type, making games more appealing to the average consumer, is usually associated with dumbing a game down. We’ve seen a lot of recent attempts to dumb fighting games down or constrain their complexity in order to make them more appealing to the average consumer, such as Street Fighter V, Marvel Infinite, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Blazblue Crosstag Battle. These have had mixed success, with only Dragon Ball really prospering and SFV holding a middle ground. DBFZ and BBTag both did a good job of scaling complexity so the games were really simple to play at a lower level, but still had difficulty advanced techniques for higher level players. However the ease of play didn’t appear to make these games any more or less popular than any of their competitors. Tekken 7 did not include any ease of play additions compared to its forebears, yet is performing comparably to DBFZ (which has more sales momentum) and outperforming SFV. The popularity of each of these games seems to have no correlation to the ease of play, and a much stronger correlation to the quality of service for the game, and in dragon ball’s case, the strength of the IP. Continue reading

What’s the point of combos in fighting games?

Many beginners get into fighting games and see these COMBOS and feel like, “bullshit, it’s not fair that they can deal a billion damage. I hit them twice as much and they win off one hit.” While that can be frustrating, combos add a lot to the game that you can’t get any other way.

The deal with combos is they make certain hits under certain circumstances more damaging than just any random hit. Games with longer combos allow players to find different combo routes that lead to different types of advantages, like more damage, better screen positioning, knockdown, meter gain, easier confirms, and safety on block. Continue reading

Don’t Diss a Genre You Don’t/Refuse to Understand

I said I wouldn’t review any more videos of other critics, but I couldn’t stand to watch this one and say nothing. I’m reposting here, mostly because I think it goes a ways to explain the differences between traditional fighters and smash. If you’re a smash player, please play other fighting games too. Please stop sticking to one insular franchise.

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