Ever since the release of Street Fighter IV (not Super), I’ve often found myself wondering about what a fighting game made with the aim of being attractive to new players would look like. Street Fighter IV was supposedly made with that goal in mind, but a couple of design decisions that Ono and friends made with respect to that game seem to indicate the exact opposite. The two primary offenders:
Emphasis on Links: While not difficult for dedicated fighting game fans to adjust to, new players HATE links. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve tried introducing SFIV to that eventually quit because of links. Simply put, most players want to pull off fancy shit when they land a hit on the opponent. In games with chain combo systems, even the worst player can pull off something that at least looks cool even if it does shit for damage. Hell, chain combo systems are the reason I got into fighting games. SFII never interested me that much as a kid, but, holy shit, Marvel Super Heroes was the game that friggin’ defined my childhood. Why? Well, there are a couple reasons, but, the Magic Series is one of the biggest. There was nothing cooler to me than pulling off sick looking air combos with ease. Thus, it is understandable that newer players aren’t fans of links since it prevents them from immediately pulling off flashy combos. It also means they’re not going to be dealing much damage without an Ultra, which in turn leads to more boredom.
FADC: Another mechanic that seems to drive new players crazy. Unlike links, FADC isn’t so much timing-dependent, but it does require quicker and more precise movements than newer players are used to. This another barrier preventing new players from pulling off the combos they want to pull off, and thus a turn-off.
Why the developers would emphasize links and throw in FADC when they’re trying to make what is supposedly and easier game for newbies to get into is just about the most bizarre design decision that the developers of SFIV could have possibly made. Sure, they made it easier for new players to pull of certain specials (fifty million different ways of producing a Shoryuken) and bad players can occasionally get a win off of a random ultra, but the most important decision they could have possibly made regarding the game’s ease of play was the one they decided to completely fuck up. If new players can’t pull off awesome combos, then they don’t have much of an incentive to keep on playing. They understand that there’s depth in the game, but they aren’t willing to get to dive in without incentives.
So, since SFIV completely failed to meet its purported goal of being friendlier to new players, I began thinking: If I were developer, what would I do to make a game as new-player friendly as possible without sacrificing depth. I mean, sure, a bunch of scrubs think throws, overheads, and chip damage are “cheap” and that they should be removed, but, that would be a stupid design decision since they contribute significantly to the depth of a fighting game. Without them, the game would boil down to landing a single hit and then holding back for the rest of the game.
After asking around about this hypothetical newbie-friendly game, here’s a bit of feedback I’ve received:
It would need to be flashy: Capcom’s Magic Series games were always more popular at the arcades I frequented than any Street Fighter or KoF game? Why, because there’s a ton of shit on the screen and it’s fun to watch even if you have no idea what the hell is going on. Although it doesn’t matter to us nearly as much, a fighting game needs to look awesome if it’s going to pull away people from Halo and Madden. I think relatively few fighting games on the market have that sort of necessary pizazz. Really, the only game that I think satisfies this criterion is MvC2. MvC3 looks like it’s getting there as well.
The characters need to be “cool”: Why is Tekken more popular than Virtua Fighter? Hell if I know the actual answer to this question, as I’ve always preferred playing VF to Tekken, but my guess is that it’s because of the cast. Simply put, VF is severely lacking in the bad-ass character department. Tekken’s got a bunch of colorful characters while VF, well, doesn’t. I mean, let’s be honest, VF has arguably the most boring character designs in the history of fighting games. Just the sight of Akira makes me want to fall asleep from boredom. On the other hand, Tekken’s got a very colorful cast of characters ranging from bad-ass old men to bears to robots to alien cyborg samurai to MOTHERFUCKING BOXING KANGAROOS. I’d say the latter is significantly more interesting to the newbie than the former.
Motions should be simple: QCF, QCB, HCF, HCB, 22, DP, B_F, D_U and that’s it. No QCFx2, no HCBF, no 1319, and for the love of fucking God NO GEESE PRETZEL MOTIONS! New player hate complicated controls. I know, we don’t think they’re complicated, but a majority of us have been playing fighting games since the 90s. It’s painful enough getting new players used to QCFs. There’s no reason to make it any more painful for them (or their fighting game tutor :wasted:) than that.
Chain combos should be emphasized: New players should be able to pull of decent combos with relative ease. Otherwise, you risk losing your newer players since they won’t be having much fun if they can’t pull off flashy shit. Emphasizing chains instead of links makes that possible.
Combos should be short yet flashy: No one likes being stuck in a loop that last thirty seconds. New players want to spend most of their time actually fighting, not being trapped in long, repetitive combos by a much better player. If combos are short, then they won’t get as frustrated. But, it’s necessary that these combos still be flashy despite being short. Flashiness IS important.
I’ve received a lot more feedback than what’s summarized in these five points, but, these seem to be what matters the most to the people I’ve spoken with.
Anyhoo, I felt like this would be a good starting point for a discussion on making fighting games attractive to new and potential players.