Humor me for a few lines, reader. Imagine a game. Not just any game, a highly-nuanced, complex game; a competitive game. This game has next to no tutorial yes requires large amounts of precision and timing for even moderately skilled play. At high levels, this game necessitates using glitches and exploits to combat its own complicated systems. The game has no internal progression and makes no effort to teach the player, even through a simple challenge-curve. Are you disgusted yet? This is a problem, no? I mean, the controls could be tight. It could be a pretty game. All of the window dressing could be perfectly in order. And yet, here we are, with a frustrating game because it does nothing for the player at all.
“But Jon,” you say. “This game isn’t even real. Who would make a game like this? Who would play it?”
Well, to answer your first question: Capcom. Are you starting to get it yet? Yes, Street Fighter. As for the second question: Tons of people. I don’t get it. Why is this OK? I’ve tried to understand for so long. I’ve studied the systems. I know links and cancels. I can read frame data. I understand, but I still don’t get it. These things don’t seem fun. Why do I need to circumvent the SFIV input-reading system just to do a medium punch after a medium punch? Why can’t the game do something to tell me about its own systems? In any other genre, this would be unacceptable. You could say that this is simply the way it is, but it’s a game, not a natural process. It doesn’t just happen. Someone decided that this was a good idea and people are just accepting it. Worse off, not only does the game push people away, the community does as well. It’s simple group polarization and it’s stagnating the genre.
“But Jon,” you say again, “There’s a whole community of people having fun with this stuff. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong.”
Perhaps you’re right, hypothetical person, but so what? I’m a game designer. If I think there’s a problem, I’m going to try to solve it. I know I’m not alone, and you have to admit that fighting games are getting kind of same-y. Saying that they’re just “similar with small differences that only connoisseurs can understand” doesn’t change that, it just means that you accept it.
So, in the coming weeks, I’ll be (hopefully) posting about specific things that I hope to address in the genre, as well as documenting my progress. Maybe I’ll do a physical prototype (like a card game). I’m not sure yet. I’ve yet to hammer down what technologies I’ll employ and I may not even finish. But I will try. If I don’t, I’ll just be pissed off forever and I don’t want that because I love fighting games. I want them to be more.
If it becomes something cool, I’ll open-source it of course. Stay frosty.
Agreed. I play fighting games pretty much for all of my spare time: and while it is rewarding – there is absolutely no conveyance to the player of how the player should approach these kind of games. The tutorials are next to useless and the vast majority of information needs to be accessed at external sources (YouTube etc).
In all seriousness – it’s a bit of a joke. My brother loathes Street Fighter, pretty much all fighting games, because the game won’t teach the player anything. He doesn’t know how to play – and will immediately get frustrated when what I’ve shown him doesn’t work.
All it needs is a few things too – In these examples, I’ll refer to Street Fighter 4:
– Explain basic states and mechanics (Combo, BlockStun, Gauges, Knockdown, execution examples (links, cancels) etc)
– Explain the meaning and implications of the Neutral Game in context of Street Fighter (Options available to the player, examples of some good ideas, pokes, anti-airs, projectiles).
– On disc resources to further research and improve (Frame Data, combo examples, uses for meter)
Here you have a progression. Players who understand the basic tutorial will expand into the next layer of what the game has to offer. Killer Instinct on Xbox One (while I haven’t played it) looks like the best example of a tutorial teaching and explaining itself to the user well, allowing the player to grasp basic concepts and have these ideas reinforced in gameplay.
As for motivation to play it. I find enjoyment in bettering myself – noticing that progression that I’ve worked hard to attain. That kinda thing must come from the player. I’ll agree that the online community for games like these are the epitome of elitist, but that can’t be controlled. In that situation, you’ve got to strip away the bad apples until you find maybe the one or guys on the Internet that’ll help you out when you need help.
Capcom and companies like this should be doing way more than they are in order to actually convey a legitimate message about how their game plays and how the player can seek to understand the mechanics implemented. They might be afraid to commit because their tutorial will become outdated as the pacing and technologies warp the way the game is played. Even then – this is no reason to skimp on it entirely. The barrier of entry to fighting games is naturally high but they could be doing so much more to help their end user understand the content they’re putting out.
TL;DR – Fighting Game developers aren’t doing enough. KI on Xbox One looks like a new standard for Fighting Game tutorials. Tutorials need to teach the basic/intermediate/advanced techniques and mechanics of the game to the user in order for them to find motivation to keep playing it – otherwise, they will be lost and leave.
Apologies for the long comment, but the subject of Fighting Game Tutorials has came up a few times on WordPress – and it’s a very interesting subject.
Thanks for the comment, oinfrar3do! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. To be honest, KI totally slipped under my radar, but I looked at it and it definitely seems like a step in the right direction. I’ll definitely have to play it. I love me a good combo system.
You raise a lot of good points about what needs to be explained in fighting games. The solutions are simple, and companies just don’t do them.
Personally, I know I’m going to end up flying in a completely different direction with fighting game mechanics because that’s just how I roll. However, you have reminded me that the current way of doing things, although somewhat flawed, can be good.