When most people say “fighting games are hard”, it’s usually in reference to common inputs like QCF and SRK. What’s more, unlike FPS games, MOBAs, and RTS games, there are huge differences in basic input styles (4 vs 6 buttons, 5 if you’re Guilty Gear/TTT2) and special move inputs (motion specials, charge moves, MK inputs, TAP attacks, SPDs, and the list goes on). This not only forces people to learn new skills to play a specific game, but some of those skills may not transfer to other fighting games, particularly between Capcom/Namco/NRS titles.
So, a big part of individual fighting games happens to be their input system. As inputs are added, fighting games get more “complex” but allow more options to be accessed at a given time. To describe this, let’s start with something like a typical beat-'em-up game like Final Fight or Streets of Rage. You can move horizontally, vertically, jump, and attack. As directions are not meaningfully different (more on that in a second), there’s really only one true/false variable related to moving or not. Attacks are put to one button, and pressing repeatedly performs a combo. Throws are performed by moving horizontally while attacking next to an enemy. I’ll call this a “conditional option”, where you only get this action under a “condition” not related to your input. Jumps are their own button, but this opens up a new scenario, a kind of “stance” where the previous rules of throwing and moving don’t apply. There’s also special moves executed by pressing attack and jump at the same time, and picking up items is conditional to standing over an item. With 3 input tools (joystick, attack button, and jump button), we have 4 options from standing (move, attack, jump, special attack), 2 more tied to conditions (throws, pickups), and jump attacks that can only be done after a jump but before landing.
That was a big paragraph for something really simple, right? Now let’s look at something slightly more complex: Street Fighter 1/Fighting Street. Now, there’s a new factor related to facing your opponent and 6 different attack buttons (3 punches, 3 kicks). In Street Fighter 1, we have 12 options while standing (move forward, move back, jump, 6 attacks, hadoken, shoryuken, tatsumaki), a conditional option in the form of blocking, and jump attacks. We already see a surge in options, but this gets more unwieldy to explain.
Going into modern games, we now have forward dashes, back dashes, EX moves, supers, charge moves, and so on. More than other genres, fighting games rely on hardware and input options to work well. This served them well in arcades and traditional consoles. Now, with the advent of mobile/handheld gaming and Nintendo’s use of non-standard controls to have new input options, traditional fighting games are more restricted in their platform than some other genres. I don’t see very many traditional fighting games using a computer mouse, touchscreens, or Wii/Kinect type controls very well. Fighting games haven’t really moved beyond traditional controls, even when it doesn’t make the best sense. For example, if you watched Core-A Gaming’s video on mobile fighting games, you have SNK’s port of King of Fighters, which uses touchscreen controls to represent buttons and a joystick. Core-A even comments that this doesn’t feel well, and winds up using a peripheral to have real buttons on hand, which goes against the point of being a mobile game in the first place. The video also looks at Marvel: Contest of Champions, which takes a completely different approach to the same device; inputs come in the form of taps, holds, and swipes. Coming from traditional fighters, this may feel clunky, and it kind of is. However, it makes better use of mobile phones as mobile phones than SNK, which uses mobile phones to impersonate traditional controls. Another problem with Marvel’s approach is that their input style is kind of limited compared to “real” fighting games, which turns off fans of the genre.
Can mobile games capture the same complexity as traditional fighters? I think so. Here’s my theoretical control scheme for a mobile fighting game:
-Hold the phone horizontally so it is wider than longer
-To move, tilt the phone left and right; this is akin to moving your joystick left and right and unlike Marvel, which doesn’t let you move, allows it to feel more like a “real” fighter
-If you move back during an opponent’s attack, you block, similar to Street Fighter
-Basic attacks are done by tapping anywhere on screen. No direction needed, just rapid tap to do strings like P4A’s auto combos
-Holding a tap does a heavier unblockable attack, similar to Contest of Champions; with blocking, this almost resembles strike/throw mix ups from Street Fighter
-Swiping toward/away from the opponent performs special moves. If we were playing Ryu in this game, for example, swipe toward would be Hadoken, and swipe back would be Tatsu
-To jump, swing the phone slightly in a “whip” motion. While jumping, you can do jump attacks
More can be added on, but the point is that there is still work to be done in creating control schemes that work for new platforms. By looking at games in terms of your possible inputs, you can better visualize making something that plays like Street Fighter with nonstandard/simpler controls.
How does SRK feel about this? I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days now, and wondered if others had some insight to add to the concept.