How do fighting game designers assign moves to characters?


I had an earlier thread on how do game designers know what moves work for a character but I have a question similar to the earlier one. How game programmers and designers assign and create moves for a character? What strengths and weaknesses the characters have? How they preform their moves and techniques? And how they play most of all? Given the amount research done on Shoryuken forums as well as other sites, I can see how the characters do their moves and what to look our for.

The truth is there is a ton of work that goes into a fighting game (the same can be said of any video game) and that is something that consistent. I ask these questions because I am somewhat curious as to how much thought is put into creating a character for a fighting game. I might be beating a dead horse but I need to know how they assign moves to a character. I know with characters like Ryu, Ken, Kyo and Liu Kang, their emphasis is more on simplicity and to try to give the player a feel for the game. It is different for everyone but most people seem to agree that most these character are easy to use yet difficult to master.

Most of us know that the motion for Ryu’s fireball is Down, Down Forward but why did the Capcom designers assign this motion to the fireball? Would it had worked just as easily if back, back, then forward? Or if it hold back to two or three seconds and then release? Ryu’s fireball is known to have a decent recovery or at least in Street Fighter II. Compare to Guile’s fireball that requires you hold back two seconds and then release forward. Why didn’t Capcom give Guile’s Sonic Boom a similar input like Ryu’s? Is it because it would had made Guile to powerful or is it because his defensive playstyle doesn’t allow for it?

Zangief is the most unique character motion wise, he doesn’t charge attacks or inputs like Cammy or Fei Long yet in order to do some of his moves you need to rotate the stick 360 or 720 degrees to utilize. This may not be entirely accurate but the question still stands, why assign those motions to Zangief? Could he had played like any other input character in the game? Could Capcom had substitute the 360 and 720 motions for something else? Maybe I am not getting it but I just need to know how fighting game designers know to this motion or this input to a character.


For the motions question, I think it comes down to balance. Let’s take Smash as an example; a character like Marth, who’s up special is basically a DP (complete with invincibility frames), can gain access to that move extremely easily, extremely fast without much risk in many situations. However, Ryu’s Shoryuken, I believe, was given the motion it has because of the difficulty to use it in certain situations, such as anti-airs. Giving Shoryuken a down, down forward, forward motion would make it a bit too easy to access; the motion it has right now is just right in terms of the speed most people are able to do it. It comes down to risk-reward; if shoryuken was :u: + :p:, it would be a bit OP because anyone could anti-air with it at any time extremely easily, basically rendering jump-ins completely useless. Making it a more difficult motion makes it so it can still be used, but there’s more risk associated with it, especially since in a game like Street Fighter, going to do the motion means that you’ve stopped blocking.

Zangief I feel was given 360 and 720 motions for his attacks for similar reasons; balance. Imagine SPD with a Hadoken-like motion; with it’s current strength, speed that it comes out, it would be way too easy to use it in any situation. I feel the 360 and 720 motions are there to make it not as easy to access whenever you want, and make it so you have to set-up the grab rather than just walking up and grabbing them.

As for charge fireballs vs. motion fireballs, once again, it comes down to balance. I’ll use Street Fighter 4 as an example (since that’s the game I’m most familiar with). Guile is a more defensive/zoning oriented character, so his fireball comes out pretty fast and doesn’t have much recovery. The charge aspect is put in to prevent infinites and frame traps, and also preventing Guile from doing walk forward, sonic boom traps indefinitely. In theory, you could just give Guile’s sonic boom more recovery, but the small recovery on booms is a unique tool to Guile, so having the charge mechanic allows for the short recovery on the booms without making it completely overpowered.

tl;dr: It all comes down to balance. Moves that are really powerful, such as Zangief’s Spinning Piledriver, are generally given harder commands to balance out their strength. Moves that aren’t as strong, such as Ryu’s Hadoken, are generally given simpler commands so that they can be used more easily.


Nobody here designs fighting games so all you’re going to get is the same kind of conjecture you’ve done already. You’re better off just PMing someone like Mike Z who has actually designed a fighting game, although I’m sure he gets sick of those types of random q’s.

Although lots of design motivations seem pretty self evident.


There is no real right answer to this question.

A lot of character ability design comes down to a goal, theme or concept, then iteration.

Like, Capcom might have went “hm, well, let’s balance out the roster with a turkish oil wrestler” for Hakan. That might have been all they had, or a really cool basic design that changed. Then they pushes ideas around him (oil = power up) and then iterating on that with more moves.To me, Street Figher is more about culture and character design representing something in the world, than entirely about the gameplay. Tekken/VF feels very similar. I think the gameplay relates to what it’s drawing from, but isn’t the bulletpoint here.

Some design comes down to just having a key gameplay hook. Like, I think Blazblue went more of this route. They had the gameplay mechanics heavily intertwined with the character and then based a lot of their design centric to this gameplay theme. Like with Tager, sucking people in with magnetism and achieving magnetism so he can throw you. IMO all move design here was entire centered around one thing in his gameplay. All of the other characters feel really similar in that way.

Marvel vs Capcom is more “we’re drawing from a character, but not what the character embodies”. Maybe their moves have a core idea behind them, maybe not. But I think the goal with (at least Marvel 3) was just throw a bunch of shit on a dude and then piece it together. There are some characters that feel super cohesive and have a core gameplay idea (Spencer, Dormammu, Arthur, PWright) and some that don’t (Skrull, Thor, Nemesis).

A lot of the old SF2 characters I think were more based on the idea that the game itself was more the character you pick represents a culture of fighting from around the world. So by picking your character, you were embodying a martial art. Then special moves became sort of the ultimate extension of this idea. Moves so exaggerated that they had complex inputs to be discovered. The motions to me seemed like natural fluid inputs that felt like what the move was (Tiger knee moving slightly into the air, back then forward to represent pulling back your arms then shooting them forward) and were not actually designed with gameplay reasons in mind other than being “natural” to do. I think that the inputs themselves having more meaning just happened.

I can’t speak a lot for fighting game move design. I’m just trying to relate my experienced as best I can while being broad.

A lot of game design is not ideas, but iteration. Sometimes a character doesn’t fit a clear vision and things are just thrown together to see if maybe they work, and improve upon them. Sometimes when improving upon an idea, another grows, or a new gameplay hook is achieved or explored. Basically the idea here is they all start with one narrow idea and then expand upon it heavily, which can take many directions.


I worked in the gaming industry for some time now, but mostly MMORPG development. I would assume like any game, it comes down to the system designers making the abilities and assigning those abilities to various characters to make them somewhat unique. The unique aspect is what I think is key. Although various characters have similar abilities, they have slight variations (for better or worse) of those abilities too. That way every character as sort of a style to them that players attach to when playing the game on top of that look and feel.

System wise, there are also various techniques to defining characters (or fighters in this instance). I’ve seen some create a power point system where certain abilities that do more damage than others are valued higher than others. The same might apply for execution where easier punishing moves have higher values than more complicated punishing moves etc. Then when it’s all said and done, with the same amount of abilities, you can see a power rating of every character (or fighter) to balance accordingly etc.

But, that’s just one approach among many others. If I had my bet, I would say that Capcom just tried to stay inline with what was done many years ago on top of mixing it up with new styles to help make characters seem separated as well a bit unique.


That makes some sense, the moves for SF2 do feel natural for the characters. I am not sure about the later games but I do that things had gotten somewhat crazier since then with these combos and supers. I usually thought they designed the moves to appease those fighting game experts but I am beginning to realize that a lot of thought had been put into it. I am still learning the details myself but I am starting to see that the characters had some thought put into them. Capcom is known to not mess with a good thing hence why the characters movesets stayed the same while everything else has changed over the years. I just assumed that put those motions for the characters for the sole purpose of making the game harder to get into but I am changing that now.

Edit: Although it still sort of bothers me that you have to some characters a certain way before you can use their abilities effectively.


Normally, game designers do not design their games around the minority. Fighting Game Experts who I assume would be the Hardcore Players, are not the target audience for these types of games. Competitive Gamers are also not the target audience for these types of games. They are a smaller segment of the bigger market that takes their games to well, the next level. What that bigger segment is, well, I can only assume it’s the Casual Gamer who does not play on a high competitive level (offline or online), but plays just to play. Thus, pleasing the Hardcore Gamers could sink the title and even possibly sink the developer (due to the high costs of game development now-a-days).

That’s not to say they are not important. But, it just depends on how the developer or publisher views that segment. If a producer asked me specifically, I would say they are pretty important for the fact that those minority players have the power to impact thousands of other players (i.e.: EVO Tournament). Through them, we will gain many more casual and hardcore players. So, even though we don’t have thousands of Justin Wongs out there, he can still influence thousands of others to pick up the game and try it for the first time.

On the top of natural feeling, that’s the idea. They already have defined the foundation for the fanbase with the previous titles (before SSFIV). If they went a different direction in terms of say, changing Ryu’s moves to something entirely different, then you could risk losing that foundation. It’s almost a brand when you think about it. Ryu’s move set is his brand. If it ever changed dramatically from this point on, then you could see a lot of loss money. So, they are specifically careful on major balance changes to pre-existing characters like the core Street Fighter lineup.

As to new mechanics and even removed ones (like parry for one example). I think that’s mainly testing the waters to make the game more accessible to new users.


I know fighters is not a popular genre at least to compared to other games nowadays but I usually thought it was only hardcore and aspiring tournament players that play fighters nowadays. Also, how do fans inform developers when character X is unbalanced, too weak, too powerful, etc.?


Normally, you go through the correct channels that are setup for the game like official forums, social networks and etc. In Capcom’s instant, there is a huge gap between that feedback and the developers due to the language and region barriers. That’s why people like Seth exist to bridge that gap. Unfortunately, he pretty much confirmed (in his last interview) that he has no power over change and it’s very hard for him to advocate for change based on said feedback, which is not uncommon for other genres of gaming.This is mainly because everyone and their mom has an opinion. You are fighting an uphill battle on balance changes in that regard.

Anyways, system changes like balance suggestions are hard. As above, everyone has an opinion and everyone thinks they are the expert (armchair developers). It’s rare you find players of any genre simply allowing game developers to know what they are doing as hired professionals who do this for a living. For example, you don’t go to a doctor, self diagnose yourself and tell the guy/girl how to solve the problem. The better approach is to explain the problem and allow the doctor to do his/her job in fixing the issue. In game terms, that means explaining what isn’t fun and what is challenging for you as a player, then letting the developer to figure out a solution. Why? Changes to a game are not linear or one-sided. They impact more than just you; they impact the world. High-level decisions are not done with knee-jerk reactions. It’s hard to make that choice and hard to weave through all the feedback even if you could read the language.


This is in reality a more important part of fighting game design than most players realize, and it’s definitely worth talking about.

A lot it has to do with what has been said (kind of) before. Guile’s booms, for example, are charge moves because their recovery is essentially front-loaded. You can’t throw a reaction sonic boom. You have to store the charge. It’s the price he pays for having a ridiculously fast recovery. Even though Guile players can store the charge while doing other things, they are in a way committing to it early. This can also prevent other problems, holding back for two seconds prevents him from just walking forward throwing booms.

Be careful, however, not to fall into the trap of thinking execution difficulty equates balance. It is an important part of game design and balance, but only a part of it.

yeah game developers have to go to many years of game school and are under constant scrutiny lest their license to make games be revoked

The concept that because someone makes games he/she is an authority is toxic.


Some do go through many years of game school through many years of working in the gaming industry when game schools didn’t exist. They are also under constant scrutiny both internally and externally. The only difference is the balance of life and obviously not needing a license.

The reason it makes them the authority is because they are looking at the entire pie when you as a player are just looking at the slice. You don’t have the same capacity as a player to see all the slices, both what’s visible on the top and what’s hidden underneath the crust. That doesn’t mean you are any less or more right on what may need to change. It just means that as developers, they are able to see more of the picture and actually control the final result to BE that authority, where you are very limited in your scope due to the limited resources available to you as the player and as a qualified developer.

There is a huge difference between eating food every day and actually being a chef.


I have another question for execution in general, do character have to played a certain way in order to used effectively?


I think the inputs are somewhat based on the aesthetics of the move. Look at the inputs for the moves and try imitating them yourself and you may notice that they may resemble the startup animation. For example, Guile throws his arms back as he does a Sonic Boom. Then there’s the Hadouken motion where you use your hands to follow the motion. Likewise, there’s Cammy’s Hooligan and Fei-Long’s Chicken Wing.

Of course, not every attack applies to this. Chun-Li’s charge motion for her fireball really only applies to her HP Kikouken whereas the others are satisfied with a HCF motion.


Different characters have different strengths and weaknesses, which means they lend themselves to certain playstyles. For example, Dhalsim’s long limbs and fireball make him good at poking the enemy player to death from long range, but his jump is very floaty so you’re not going to be doing many jump-in based crossups.

Some characters, like Ryu and Rose, are considered well-rounded. Incidentally, these are usually the sort of characters you will most commonly hear suggested for learning AE.


Usually the people hired to do these things are hired to do so because they can manage an entire ecosystem that is the game. There are people capable of understanding good changes in the community, but they are few and far between.


I’ve designed 6 fighting games for consoles. I actually find it rather difficult to discuss fighting game concepts with folks in the FGC, because the community has a “user-backwards” perspective on game systems, while designers have to work from a “systems-forward” perspective. The sort of balance discussions players have are just impossible to have when you are iterating on a game’s base systems. Instead, designers on fighting games keep adding in new pieces, to see how well they fit. I’d say 50% of character designer’s time is spent telling artists / animators to create new character data - which is ultimately not used in the project.

It’s hard to throw so much away - it’s a reductive process rather than an additive process. So when you list the attack moves a character has, the proper question is not “why did they add this move?” so much as it is “what moves were removed, and why?”


Well, that’s always been the disconnect too. Many developers, not just in the fighting game genre, focus on expansion rather than what’s already established. Players want to focus on what’s already there where developers want to focus on adding what’s not there. Both parties are not thinking incorrectly, but rather what they can do to improve the bigger picture IMHO.

Having worked on multiple AAA titles and brought them to market, it’s very similar across the board. As someone who has worked in the gaming industry, I would prefer to have a mixture of both. There is nothing wrong with iterating on the games base systems. I mean, if something is obviously funky with the existing base that can be improved, why move onto more additions that also can add even more funkyness to the game? It’s a mindset that’s being beaten into teams heads that improving and fixing what you have is bad where ignoring what was done to focus on the new hotness is good. It should actually be the other way around and then add the new hotness.

The question however is, when is good good? When is the base good enough to move on? In the end, players or developers, will never all agree the existing base is good enough. Because of that theory, I feel that’s why so many developers push on rather quickly to expansions on the game rather than taking more time to improve what’s already been established.


Yeah, I kind of touched upon this with the idea of things being really iterative.

A lot of game development is finding what works and then rolling with that. What you see is the end result of a lot of changes, ideas and even more importantly: failed ideas. I’ve developed things that have never seen the light of day and no one will know what they are. They might even -like- these ideas, but ultimately they didn’t really fit the character or had interesting problems that were all hidden to the player. I’ve never worked on a fighting game though :slight_smile:

I’d really love to see how certain companies develop their characters, I’m basing my assumptions off of experience. Every company does these kinds of things differently so I think it’s ultimately impossible for anyone on this board to have an absolute answer to this question, especially since companies change these processes after each game.


I agree. Oh people, don’t want to know how many versions of Sentinel they were in X-Men Children of the Atom. Hell, a lot of times animations don’t even get finished before they’re thrown out.


Yeah, a lot of the times the unfinished or other character’s animations are used as placeholders to do the minimum amount of work needed to see if an idea is good.

It can end up being REALLY funny sometimes, when you’re using a different character or placeholder model tinted differently to get an idea across without having any art assets.

Seeing a projectile that’s just a random character model… that never gets old. I’ve seen a character’s head cropped out and used as projectile in a 2D game.