DBFZ Impressions

What’s your opinion on FighterZ so far?

Alright, I checked out the DBFZ beta while it was up. I played some ranked, and honestly got my ass scraped. Had like, a 50% win ratio exactly. Feel like I gotta count my losses too.

Felt like I had no idea what the hell I was doing or how anything fit together, but then I watched a vid that explained the universal moves and the basic combo mechanics and it made a lot more sense. Once I actually got the game, I started winning a lot more, and overall the pieces fit into place a lot more, it can just be a bit rough starting out.

I’m gonna use anime numpad notation, so look that up if you don’t know it. 2M and 6M are a universal low, and a universal overhead respectively. 6M is a lot like the 3rd strike UOH, but it can’t be hit meaty, and doesn’t chain or cancel into anything, so unless you call an assist before using it, you can’t combo off it. 2M is a sweep that usually moves forward a bit.

Dragon rush is this game’s equivalent of throw, but it has a startup period before rushing forward to grab. It has low priority, so anything with range will knock you out of it. It sometimes loses to normals, always loses to beams, it’s a pretty crappy throw. It also serves as your snapback, letting you force the opponent’s character out if you land it. Since it has a startup, tick throwing in this game is basically absent. You’re only gonna get tick dragon rush off maybe an assist block pressure, or a reset really. Otherwise, you need to make them scared enough to continue to hold block long enough for the dragonrush to start up, and that’s probably reactable. This means that if you want to fuck up someone who is blocking, you need to mix them up, high and low.

Also, you can cancel ground pressure into superdash, vanish, or S (Ki Blast) to extend it. Ki blast can be canceled into projectile specials, then super, which sometimes can serve as a weak confirm, however your real damage comes from either confirming into H, or getting a combo off 2M.

So that’s the next deal, there’s an interesting progression in the combo system that has all these parts that are really easy to tack on to add up to bigger and bigger combos. First you have the L and M autocombos, which do like 2 normal hits, then a unique attack, then for the L combo, it leads into a launcher, then hard knockdown, and for the M combo, it does the 3 hits, then cancels into special, then super. There doesn’t appear to be any scaling on these, so they get decent damage, like a quarter to third of someone’s health. If you hold back, you can get the unique 3rd hit, without getting the rest of the autocombo. So you can confirm off random hits in neutral, then autocombo your way to victory as an introduction, then you can ramp up to doing L > M > H, which the tutorial shows you how to do. 5H and 2H are your launchers. 5H will launch horizontally and wallbounce, and is usually a big poking move, 2H launches vertically, and is invincible to air attacks, which is important. Then you can do an air combo like L > M > H for a hard knockdown, and then super when you land.

Once you’ve gotten those basics down, you can get a bit more mileage in a couple different ways. First, you can do 2M to sweep, then 5M to launch from the sweep and jump cancel the 5M to follow into the air. Then in the air, instead of doing L > M > H, you can do L > M and jump cancel into another L > M, then cancel to special, then to super. Or, instead of the special into super, you could do 2H, which launches them even higher, and lets you follow up into L > M > special > super. You could also vanish instead of super, letting you combo the wallbounce from vanish into dragon rush for a snapback. You can integrate these combo extensions at pretty much any point for a little extra damage, and far as I know, they’re universal across the cast. Even if you don’t do 2M > 5M, you can still integrate jumping L > M double jump L > M from the H launchers.

Oh, and the chain system is weird, you can chain any button into any other version of that button, but you can’t have the same move in a chain twice, so you can chain 2M > 5M or 5M > 2M, but not 5M > 2M > 5M, which is what would lead to a launch, if possible. This also means you can chain 2M > 6M, the low into the overhead, but 6M cannot chain, so the overhead only combos with an assist.

Beyond that, there’s advanced character-specific combos, which involve comboing off specials or using assists or other business to extend, but still, there’s a basic template that lets you get a good combo, which you can steadily ramp up through and improve at without adding too much complexity at any given point. It also means you can pick up a new character and figure out how to do basic-bitch combos with them fairly quickly by following this template.

The superdash is a big deal, it’s kind of like a street fighter jump, in that it lets you get in, it’s safe on block, and combos on hit, but if they’re paying enough attention to AA you, there’s not a damn thing you can do, and they’ll get pretty decent damage off it to boot. 2H is completely air invincible, so if properly timed, it will beat superdashes clean. Superdashes can come out quickly however, and are tough to react to at close range. They deal a hit as they come in, which can be combo’d off. If blocked, then the attacker is not punishable, and they can get out an attack before hitting the ground, making it kind of a mixup scenario on block, which I’d guess is weighted slightly in the defender’s favor. The attacker can also double jump on block to make it almost completely safe. Unlike normal aerials, superdash can be blocked low or high, and you can cancel into superdash from L, M, and H, extending pressure. This move is gonna be the noob killer, because of how difficult it is to react to and shut down and how high priority it is. It goes through small ki blasts, but can’t go through beams and larger projectiles, so you can use those as a less guaranteed and lower reward anti-air, albeit with less harsh timing requirements than 2H. Superdash also has reasonably high priority vs normals.

I’m a bit disappointed by the tutorials and combo trials. The tutorials explain the bare basics, but don’t explain how to play the standard game, or that 2H is invincible. And it’s lacking Guilty Gear Revelator’s more advanced mission modes that fill in that type of information. The combo trials are also fairly simple, and don’t really go through the ramp up in complexity that I mentioned, at least, not nearly as far as Guilty Gear Revelator’s. So a lot of people are gonna have to go online to learn more information about the game, which is disappointing, and might detract from the image of the game, as people get stymied by simple tactics.

The game has a ton of hidden features, both character-wise and system-wise, so it’s shaping up to be an excellent game overall. My notes file on the game is huge. I like the game a lot so far, but I haven’t dedicated much time to improving in it.

Balancing Parries for Single Player

How are parries treated in fighting games? Specifically in comparison to single player games where once you get the timings down, it can trivialize enemies.

It depends on the fighting game, but I largely covered this in my last article on parries. Parries in fighting games can be beaten, unlike parries in single player games. In 3rd strike, you have to parry high or low, and the two zones are more separated and exclusive from one another than blocking (so moves that you normally could block crouch blocking might have different parry zones). In other games parries usually have a recovery time. In practically all fighting games, parries can be thrown.

This means parries have weaknesses, they can be mixed up, either with timing, or by choosing options that beat parry. In a single player game, this isn’t really feasible. Everything needs to be reactable in order to be fair, which means if everything is parryable, then every problem can be solved with parries. Some measures you can throw in to prevent this are having unparryable attacks, force the player to respond differently to those. You could have different parry zones too, so they need to parry differently depending on the incoming attack, but this amounts to basically just giving the player shit instead of solving the core problem, which is that parries hand players a difficult but simple solution to any problem where they are applicable. It’s not a question of, “would it be better to attack or defend now?” It’s just “If I can do it, parrying is best.” And you might have different types of parries or unparryable attacks, so players have a bit more trouble reacting, but the fundamental problem is still there in a way that it isn’t for parries in multiplayer games. Parrying isn’t the best solution to scenarios in 3rd strike all the time, since it’s not always rewarding (parry into throw) and requires commitment for the number of parries you’re gonna attempt and the followup. It is in Guilty Gear, but it also costs meter in Guilty Gear, which is a limited and precious shared resource.

Oh yeah, maybe that’s the answer. Bloodborne limits parrying by tying it to bullets, but that just restricts the amount of times you can parry, bullets aren’t really used for much else of consequence. Imagine if parrying in dark souls cost you literally your entire stamina bar, requiring the bar to be full first, and you don’t get it back after a successful riposte. Hell, make stamina a bit negative even afterwards. Perhaps you could balance parrying by limiting the conditions for it, and having it cost you significantly otherwise, so you can only use it occasionally, and by sacrificing something else important.

How to Cater to Fighting Game Beginners

How do you feel SFV and MvCI’s approach to catering to newcomers compares to Sakurai’s approach with Brawl and Smash 4?

It’s not nearly as bad, but it’s very similar in its heavy-handedness.

Instead of trying to lower the skill floor of the game, they did that and lowered the ceiling as well. Honestly, I don’t know as much about MVCI, it sounded like that game did fairly well except for hitstun decay being tied to damage, and the discoveries people (infinites, hitstun decay glitch, the new unblockable) making progressively making the game less and less interesting to play, but whatever.

Characters in SFV don’t have as much potential for combo creativity as characters in SF4. They made combos easier and more understandable, but they also reduced the number of moves on each character that link and limited the juggle properties of characters even more severely than the juggle points system in SF4 (unless I’m mistaken. SFV’s juggle system is still a bit weird and hard to understand). SFV was intended to correct SF4’s mistakes, but they overcorrected and ended up making new problems.

The issue is, they removed a lot of the potential for advanced play from the game in the name of making the game easier to pick up, and those two goals aren’t mutually inclusive. Having a lower skill ceiling doesn’t attract beginners, and honestly, neither does making the game easier. SF4 was one of the best selling SF games in the franchise, despite being arguably so difficult. Casual fans are more attracted by having a large roster of characters that they like than anything specific about the game systems. Casual fans are more attracted by single player content like Mortal Kombat’s. Brawl and Smash 4 at least delivered on those fronts, there’s a lot you can do without needing friends to play with you, and the rosters are large.

Dragon Ball FighterZ has a really neat auto-combo system that helps bridge the gap even better, without compromising high level combos in the process. Basically, you have 2 autocombos, LLL and MMM, and these will do simple combos. The light autocombo does 3 unique light attacks in a row, the 3rd one launching into a low air combo, where you can again press LLL to do light, medium, and heavy in a row. The Medium autocombo does standing medium, crouching medium, a special, then super if you have meter. What’s cool about these is, lights chain into mediums, and mediums chain into heavies. So instead of doing the next hit of the auto combo, you can at any time do a better attack instead.

What’s also cool is, later on in the combo, you can default back to doing the auto combo. So beginners can easily do LLL or MMM, but they can substitute for better attacks, then default back to the easy stuff where they don’t know the way yet. So you can do MM, but instead of continuing, you could press H to launch the opponent, then go back to doing LLL in the air to finish up the combo. If you do crouching H, then you will even get a hard knockdown off this, which you can combo into super.

In this way, beginners can slowly ramp up their combos into more optimal sequences, LMH > LLL, or LMH > LM > special > super, or 2M 5M > jc > LM 2H > LM dj LM > special > vanish > special > super. The combo trials hint at a lot of these common combo properties across characters, though I still wish they were more extensive, and the tutorial was better.

And the best part is, advanced players still have difficult and advanced juggle combos they can perform for optimal damage, or using assists and so on, so unlike MVCI and SFV, there wasn’t anything compromised in the process of building this system. The air autocombo even has special height gaining properties that make it useful in combos.

I still think they dropped the ball a bit on the tutorial end of the game however. It can be difficult for players to realize all this, especially because they probably don’t understand what’s happening in the combo trials, they just see a list of moves and don’t understand all the different ways it can go. It also doesn’t help that they didn’t include the basic universal B&B anywhere in the Combo Trials. Oh well.

Fighting Game Auto-Combos

What do you think of auto combos in fighting games?

Short answer: Letting people mash a single button to get an okay-ish high-commit combo that does not mix up on block in a game that is heavily based on landing difficult high-damage combos is a good idea.

Marvel style games and anime fighters are frequently about landing big, high-execution combos for tons of damage. I’ve learned a few combos in skullgirls and marvel 3, and they get pretty long and tough, even if most of the individual stages are fairly lenient.

Individual hits in these games tend to be low damage, and exist more to define the entry-point of the combo, limiting your ability to confirm and what route you take through the combo. Damage scaling and proration also affect the total damage of the combo based on the opener. It might be easier to confirm off a light (because they self-cancel and come out fast), but you might be shaving off tons of damage in the process.

The perspective to take for these types of games is to think of the combo as one extremely high-damage hit, imagine that in in-game time, you’re skipping directly from the beginning of the combo to the end. Having the combo have all these moves in-between allows combos to vary more widely in their effects and damage, so in “one hit” you can have a much wider variety of outcomes, pieced together by all the moves the attacker chooses to assemble in the combo. From that they can get pure damage, resets, corner optimized combos, corner carry, hard knockdown, character switching, etc.

It also means that different players can demonstrate their skill and creativity with the combo system, practice to improve their damage output, produce different results from the combo system.

However getting to that level is hard. It requires understanding a lot about the game, and having skill at actually executing combos.

So auto-combos give people an easy in. They can play the neutral game using all the different moves they’re given, then confirm into an auto-combo off their openers. They let people deal respectable amounts of damage in a game about dealing a lot of damage, but ultimately to get the real damage, they’re gonna have to learn. Autocombos don’t really affect competitive play in any way, they don’t imbalance the game, they let beginners get an idea how to use combos, how to confirm, etc. So in this respect, pros don’t care about autocombos, so it’s fine to have them.

At a low to intermediate level however, autocombos feel weird. I did a twitter thread on this: https://twitter.com/aGrimVale/status/953268702056763392

As a beginner who was good at neutral, bad at combos, I felt like autocombo systems were a violation of the idea of effort vs reward, and they are. I disliked combos in general at the time, so I didn’t really like games based on long combos. Combos can feel unfair, even if they aren’t actually unfair. It’s like, “why are we even playing each other if only one guy is doing anything?” As you get better at combos and dealing with setups, you get more patient with other people’s combos too, and you know to look out for when they drop or reset. Unless it’s Hokuto no Ken, then you just leave and grab a drink.

Beginners don’t have a good sense of the fairness of fighting games. A common perception is that mashing is just as good as deliberate play, and autocombos add to that, because low level players aren’t familiar with blocking and punishing. It’s also feels like handholding, like simplification of the game, and you’ll see the same combo a lot and you know they’re never ever gonna drop it, so that kinda sucks. So in a way, it simplifies the game at a lower level, because low level players shoot to just do the same thing over and over again, because it’s so much more rewarding than anything else you can do, and it’s frustrating to try to play without that until you can do real combos. You feel like you’re trying to engage with the actual game, but you’re being punished for it, because using multiple moves in neutral and trying to make do without combos is so much less effective than just using the damn auto-combo.

The trouble with auto-combos isn’t that they’re broken, it’s that they give people an easy crutch, but they don’t understand how to build from there. We don’t have the best on-roading structures for leading people to develop better fighting game knowledge and skills. A lot of it requires research outside the game, or having a friend who knows better, and even then, it’s difficult to really understand the basics. The tutorials in most games are insufficient, and they’re external to the process of actually playing. Most games don’t have a medium between autocombo and manual combo, and it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you can really build (Though DBFZ tried its damnedest).

I don’t have a good solution to this, but hey, autocombos are a neat stop-gap that hurt the game less than people think. If we can figure out a way to lead people to naturally learn about combo systems without having to divert them to another mode, that would be great, but I just don’t see how we can do that.

What Should be Prioritized in a Fighting Game?

What should be prioritized in making a fighting game? Is balance near the top?

The way I like to put it is, Balance is the least important thing that is still important. It’s way more important for the game to be fun than for it to be balanced.

In terms of sales success, I’d say it’s important to have a lot of characters and good single player content. Also looking good is a big factor.In terms of making the game good, it’s about making Rock-Paper-Scissors loops. It’s about making it so there’s a good web of these RPS loops going around everywhere, so you can beat everything in a couple different ways, usually varying by scenario. Continue reading

What’s a “Mechanic”?

What’s the most common way you use the term “mechanic” used inappropriately? In other words, what are things most people refer to as mechanics when they are not?

Honestly, the word mechanic itself isn’t very well defined. I don’t have a good definition for it, and I haven’t seen anyone else who does either. It’s a hard word to define, much like “game” or “art”.

Like, ostensibly “mechanic” is supposed to be the smallest unit of “game” possible. The elementary (small, unsplittable) rules that games are made out of. It’s worth noting that the word predates video games, and was used in board games, primarily to refer to use of dice, cards, etc. However the trouble is, what’s the smallest unit that comprises a mechanic?

If you’ve ever coded before, it should be fairly obvious how complex this question is. Is jumping as a whole a mechanic? Or is gravity a mechanic? Is the means via which jumping is modulated (holding the button down to jump higher) a mechanic? Is every line of code that assigns a variable a mechanic? Or are these supposed to be summed together into a whole mechanic (jumping) that has various properties (its gravity, initial jump speed, terminal velocity, jump modulation)? What’s the line you draw? It’s kind of a Sorites paradox kind of problem. (how many grains of sand do you need before your pile is a heap?)

Some people have a more rigid definition of mechanic, they define mechanic as any action the player can deliberately initiate, such as jumping, running, sliding, etc. This is much more clear, but doesn’t fit the way people currently use the word mechanic at all. It excludes things like Regenerating Health, or Death, which are not deliberately initiated player actions. It can also exclude automatic actions that occur outside the player’s direct control, like a timer or turn counter, or the interactions of objects in the environment, like many of the interactions in the Chemistry Engine in Breath of the Wild, or units attacking in RTS games (so armor is not a mechanic, their attacks are not mechanics, only the player issuing orders like attack, hold, etc, counts as a mechanic under this definition). As said, this is much more clear and obvious what constitutes a mechanic and what doesn’t, but it doesn’t match common usage and leaves us without a word for these types of common actions that can occur in games.

So my position currently is, I don’t think the definition of mechanic matters too much. I think we can generally just use the word and understand each other and that’s more or less good enough. Oh, and interestingly, Japanese does not have a word for “mechanic”. It has no equivalent for the term.

As for silly stuff people have called mechanics. There’s occasionally been, “Think up an original mechanic” threads on /v/ and the annoying thing about these threads is, nobody thinks up mechanics, they all think up thematics. And I’ve called people on this and been told, “oh, it could be the inspiration for mechanics.” Like reading one person talk about how they imagined that sweeping up floors was clearing out alien scum, which made it more enjoyable for them. Or some person’s fantasy idea. Or someone refluffing an existing mechanic with a new theme.

Beginner’s Traps

What do you think of beginner’s traps? Can they be interesting? Or are they just doomed to be frustrating for players?

I’d prefer that games don’t have beginner traps. I generally don’t think they’re particularly interesting.

One exception would be Undertale, where it’s used for comedic effect, where they mislead you in the ruins into thinking that it’s possible to spare enemies by weakening them, like pokemon. Then Toriel has an HP range where you’ll instantly kill her as you’re weakening her. So you’re set up with a false expectation, then it’s taken advantage of, ruining you if you’re going for mercy. Flowey will even taunt you if you reset and try again. This is pretty cute, and no big harm if people fall for it. Continue reading

Animation East vs West

I’ve heard you’re an animator, is there a difference in techniques between western animation and Anime? Even in Ghibli films there’s a different feeling about the animation itself, so its probably not because its cheap, and I don’t think its just the artstyle. I’m unable to find articles on this.

Yes. I’ve read a few good articles on this. The east and west have extremely different and separate traditions of animation.

The west is more about character animation. Historically, they’d hand control over a certain character to a specific animator, and ask them to basically direct the character. The analogy you’d commonly hear for animators is, “actors with a pencil”. Animators in the west have been trained in acting, and their animation is like giving a performance.

In contrast, animators in Japan were typically handed control of an entire scene, and different animators would pass off scenes to one another. (and of course, in both east and west, inbetweeners fill in frames within scenes.)

This lead to western animation having more of a focus on the performance the character gives, and eastern animation having more of a focus on the cinematography overall. In the west, the animator is the actor. In the east, the animator is the director of the scene.

This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the topic:
Why over sixty years of animation history still remains obscure

And here’s another article on how western animators look down on japanese animation for a lack of character animation:
https://cartoonrevue.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/character-animation-east-vs-west/

Japanese animation is also typically drawn with less frames than western animation, so this lead to a stronger emphasis on strong key-poses instead of consistently good animation throughout. They can’t match the framerate, so they make what little they can put in count for more.

Here’s some more articles:
https://www.tofugu.com/japan/anime-vs-cartoons/
https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2015-11-11/the-secret-of-one-punch-man-success/.95251
http://www.tested.com/art/movies/442545-2d-animation-digital-era-interview-japanese-director-makoto-shinkai/
https://www.thoughtco.com/sakuga-animation-in-anime-144807
https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/editorial/1998-07-09
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9534852

I also recommend looking up Sakuga, a term used by western fans of japanese animation. Sakuga fans are known for focusing on specific scenes, and following the animators who produced those high quality scenes, in a way replicating the production process.
https://sakugabooru.com/post?tags=animated+order%3Ascore
https://www.sakugabooru.com/forum/show/15

Weird Controls are Good for You

What do you think of games like Octodad or Snake Pass, where most of the difficulty comes from dealing with odd controls?

What do you think of Call of Duty, God Hand, or Mario Odyssey, where most of the difficulty comes from dealing with odd controls?

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Learning new control schemes is fun thing to do. All the control schemes we regularly use used to be awkward or confusing when we first encountered them, what do you think of the first time people played FPS games with a controller? Or the first time they played with a mouse? Or the first time they played FPS games at all? Every game was that way for all of us at some point.

What makes these control schemes so odd really is just unfamiliarity. These games are modeling specific types of interactions, and are these the worst controls they could have chosen to do that? Or the best controls? If you want to make a game about slithering like a snake, about gripping objects and wrapping around them, how else could you possibly build it?

Mark Brown did a pretty decent video explaining snakepass, and something he showed rather well was the progression from being bad at the game to coming to a fuller understanding of it, which I really like.

Weird control schemes are a bridge to modeling new types of interaction, and creating new, unfamiliar systems to learn about and develop competency in, which is what games are all about.

Building a Boxer

Dont know how much you know about boxing.But is it possible to have a beat em up action game centered around boxing? I have hard time seeing a deep boxing game in 3D. Like how can you fight multiple enemies at once for example. For me boxing make sense 1v1.

Nah, don’t really know anything about boxing. What elements of boxing do you not see so clearly in a video game?

My thought is, isn’t God Hand pretty similar to boxing? You tend to punch forwards, you have the weave dodge, sidesteps, and a lot of the attacks are punches. ARMS seems like another example, you can control your fists as they go even, and move around the punches of your opponent.

Perhaps an interesting way to make a boxing game would be to copy god hand’s tank control scheme, and right stick dodging, but move all the punch buttons to the shoulder, so you have right hand on right shoulder buttons, left hand on left shoulder buttons. The buttons could be light punches, the triggers could be heavy punches, and you could have different tekken styled strings based on the order you press them in. Instead of a ninja sidestep, or a full backflip, maybe have dodging be more like a sway, displacing your hitbox, and full invincibility to the opponent’s fist on the opposite side (sway right, invincible to their attack coming from the left, like their right handed hook). Weave dodge would probably have to be reworked to fit in, because if the enemies only use their fists, then there’s less lower body attacks, and the point of weave dodging was that it could beat any number of high attacks, but lost to lower attacks. Not sure how to fix that and keep the same appeal of the original weave dodge.

If you haven’t played God Hand yet, I highly recommend it, of course.