This is the continuation of my campaign for better fighting games, hopefully culminating in a project of my own. I’m making this up as I go along, and trying to be transparent with it all.
Nobody likes losing. I know I don’t. Even if you are of sound mind and calm countenance, losing is still a negative experience. But does that mean it can’t be fun? Losing is simply a matter of mechanics. You lose because the rules say you lose. The rules don’t say you shouldn’t have fun.
This means that the mechanics of the game have to be crafted such that there are still meaningful choices to be made while losing. Basically, if I’m getting beat down, do I still have stuff to do? This is apparent in the combo systems of games. When a player is being comboed, do they have choices to make? Usually the answer is no. The receiver has nothing to do but sit there and wait for a chance to tech. In some games, combos can get ridiculously long, and this boring stretch of time dominates the round. Combo damage scaling doesn’t help. It just makes the fight last longer. On top of that, since long combos go uncontested, the system offers no reason not to do a long combo. Damage is damage. If I can get more damage and keep my opponent from doing anything, why not? Who cares if I’m doing one point of damage per hit?
We have to be careful. If we empower the receiver too much, we reduce the incentive for attacking. Attackers should feel like they have an advantage, but they should still have to be careful.
So what makes being comboed so oppressive? I think the key is hitstun. By this, I mean the state of a character immediately after being hit. Usually, hitstun means “Oh well, you got hit. Hopefully this is the end of it.” As it stands, this isn’t very fun but it does make the attacker feel good I guess. Although, the attacker can get bored too. Combos, in this system, become a matter of execution and prepared performance.
What can we give the receiver? What can the attacker fear? We’ll get there, but first let’s fix hitstun. In fact, let’s almost get rid of it. Yeah I know, blasphemy, right? Well think about it. Now hitstun is a unique property. It doesn’t happen every time. Let’s say there is a Stamina Meter. Attacks deplete it, as does blocking. Some attacks are meant to do damage (hard punches and kicks) while others are meant to deplete stamina (body blows, etc.). When stamina is depleted, the receiver enters a state of long, well-earned hitstun. The bar rapidly recharges, and during that time the opponent can focus on doing damage. Then, normal play resumes.
This system introduces an element of resource management. The stronger an attack is, the more efficient blocking is (think of a curved graph that levels off as damage increases). But sometimes, blocking is not an option and the player may have to focus on mobility and trickery. If your opponent is wailing on you, you can still do something.
Now we need to make that “something” not “everything.” Once your opponent hits you, your damage goes down. Maybe most of your special moves are disabled. All you can do is throw a well-placed punch or kick, and hope that you can get your opponent off of you. Not gonna lie, my inspiration was the fights that would break out in my old high school. They were brutal, and the losers fought back like wild animals. Fighting games can benefit from this. It’s brutal, but tempered by an element of subtle resource management.
This is just one proposed solution, and it isn’t perfect. If you have any critiques, or any other solutions to this problem, shoot me a comment.