I just finished writing up a blog concerning how hard it is for new players to get into (traditional) fighting games. I also proposed some methods for developers to make the genre more accessible and lastly, I outline my own way of making an exciting fighting game that all fans, fighting or not, can sink their teeth into without dropping the controller.
Was wondering if anyone could provide feedback. Either on how the blog itself is written, or the methods I describe to make fighting games more accessible.
You can find the blog here: http://tagproto.blogspot.com/
~If you don’t want to click on the first link, here’s a very important chunk of it~
**although you’ll be missing out on my proposal of a Fighting Adventure Hybrid. **
~ Fighting games. Games that typically discourage simple button inputs (or “button mashing”) for combos, games that require quick reflexes, spot-on execution, and split-second timing against (usually) another human opponent to be victorious, a true test of skill. With such a competitive demographic however, fighting games have become a very exclusive genre. For veterans, learning a new fighting game is a simple act of adapting using prior knowledge derived from playing other fighters in the past. Those unfamiliar with the genre are essentially stepping into the genre blind as a bat with no prior knowledge whatsoever. As a result, beginners must spend a substantial amount of time learning the ins and outs of the fighting mechanics…something not all beginners are willing to do. Before we accuse anyone of being lazy, let’s put some perspective on this. An average gamer walks into a game store, looking for a nice game to purchase and play when he gets home. It would be a much more logical choice to pick up a new action-adventure title that boasts an engaging 10 hour campaign, instead of a new fighting game that takes almost the same amount of hours to get to the engaging part (which is competitive gameplay).
Not only are new players turned off by the amount of hours needed to learn a fighting game, it’s what constitutes those hours that turns them away from the genre as well. In the following section, I will outline the various barriers that new players come across and explain the best way to make those barriers less daunting.
~ COMPLEX CONTROLS
One of the most common complaints about fighting games, and for good reason. Players new to the genre can find it difficult to execute a simple fireball in battle. Add in even more complex inputs for super moves and a player may dismiss the game out of fear of getting carpal tunnel or resort to button mashing their way through Arcade Mode on the easiest difficulty, only to get bored after a few playthroughs. While combo-based games like Guilty Gear allow for a bit of button mashing to execute small combos, they won’t prove useful in a real fight. Performing the more affective and longer combos takes a great deal of memorization. Slower and more technical fighters like Street Fighter II require short and precise inputs for combos, frustrating new players with strict timing. Controls are a very important part of fighters and videogames in general, it’s how the player interacts with the world presented to him on screen. If the controls themselves acts as a barrier between the player and the game, they are likely to give up before experiencing what the game has to offer.
What to do: Dumbing down the controls may be an obvious solution to this problem but that is the wrong way to go. Accomodating to the new and casual crowd will alienate the established hardcore players that expect the sheer amount of depth found in fighting games. The goal here is not to dumb down anything, but provide an easier way for beginners to catch up with those already familiar with the genre. Provide easier inputs for special moves but avoid changing them completely. For example, the motion input for a fireball is quarter-circle forward punch. Veterans can do this on reaction, while newer players may not exactly get the timing right. A solution to this would be to make the input window for each motion input bigger so the player can execute the move a bit more slowly. Another solution could involve changing the motion from quarter-circle forward (down ->down foward-> foward), to simply down-> foward. In the end, the player will perform the same motion on the directional pad by sliding his thumb from the down direction, to front. The latter method is actually a common feature found in fighters for portable platforms because of their smaller directional pads, but it can accomodate new players as well regardless of platform.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a great example of a game with easier inputs. Almost all moves are performed with a fireball or dragonpunch motion (front-> down-> down foward), with flashy Hyper combos that are executed with similar motions while pressing more than one attack button at the same time. The game even utilizes “Simple Mode”, a simplified control scheme that serves as a stepping stone for those who wish to grasp the fundamentals before moving on to the more advanced controls. MvC3 took another step in the right direction by sporting a 4 button attack scheme, instead of the usual 6. Having a 4 button scheme was a more streamlined approach to controls as it provided less buttons for players to hover their fingers over. Ryu, a staple character from Street Fighter, was not stripped of any of his established techniques despite having 2 less attack buttons for example.
**To Summarize: **In order to accomodate both new and experienced players, controls should be simplified, not dumbed down. We want new players to work their way up to the veterans in the most accessible way possible. Examples include increasing the input window time for special moves so they can be done a bit more slowly. Or simplifying the motions themselves by removing diagonal directions in fireball/dragonpunch motions (i.e down-> forward, instead of down-> down forward-> forward)
~ THE COMPETITIVE/ONLINE SCENE
Another common complaint, although it’s more of a fear. The genre’s competitive nature itself is not the problem, it is the gap between beginners and veterans. New players may completely disregard a fighting game, knowing that online lobbies would be filled with veterans ready to take them down in the blink of an eye. As mentioned already, whether the fighting game in question is old or newly released, veterans of the genre already have the advantage and can simply adapt to the game using previous knowledge. Beginners unfortunate enough to not have any buddies to play with are stuck playing online with veterans. Searching for other beginners is a viable option however and should be made easier during matchmaking. Matchmaking is a very prevalent feature in online FPS games that match the player with other players of equal skill level. The same method applies to fighting games as well, but does not guarantee beginners to be matched up with other beginners, hence the fear that new players have about online play. That is where we can see the shortcomings of matchmaking. For example, a new fighting game is just released. A beginner and a veteran decides to buy the game. They both go home and play the game offline a bit to get the hang of things. When they begin online play, they are both given a rank of 1 (with say, rank 50 being the highest). Using the matchmaking system, these two players are likely to meet up because of their similar ranks. As far as the new game is concerned, both players may be new to the game, but it can’t tell who is more familiar with the entire genre or not. While it is very likely to be matched up against more experienced players in an FPS game, that genre in particular is very team-based, so there is some leeway given to those less experienced, as they have better players on their own team to even the playing field. Fighting games are essentially a one-on-one affair, where pitting a beginner against a veteran becomes an obvious one-sided fight.
**What to do: **There is a common cycle among fighting games with online multiplayer. Less experienced players are weeded out to make room for the more elite (although there is the case of the less experienced becoming the elite over time). Give a new fighting game a month or so and online lobbies become a nightmare for beginners wishing to jump in the fray. Matchmaking is a very important aspect to focus on to make the competitive/online scene less intimidating and to avoid this cycle.
Most of today’s fighting games determine your rank by starting you off at the lowest Level, and Leveling up with Experience Points by winning and participating in battles. An experience system similar to traditional RPGs to put it briefly. While this is a great way to show how players are progressing, Level should NOT represent a player’s skill level. It’s simply not accurate. A Level 50 player could either be a legitimately skilled person, or a mediocre player who played enough matches to gain that amount of EXP. This turns matchmaking into an inaccurate mess.
I suggest keeping the Level system, but for superficial purposes, such as unlocking extra outfits and accessories a la Tekken 6 when certain Levels are reached. Using the Level system this way can still show that players are making progress, that they are indeed gaining experience by participating in battles and unlocking content as they go.
As for player skill level, that will be separated into two categories: Skill Level in Fighting games, which we will call Player “Class”, and Skill Level within the given fighting game. Let’s start with Class, which players should decide for themselves. The first time players boot up the online multiplayer option in a fighter, they should be prompted with a question: How familiar are you with Fighting games?
The answers should be something along the lines of:
A little or not at all (Beginner)
Yes, I know what I’m doing, but I don’t play competitively (Casual)
Very, I play competitively (Pro)
Separating player skill levels right from the get-go helps players find their place, and ensures that they will compete with others who are on the same general level of fighting games.When players deem it necessary, they can change their Class at any time they wish.
Now, Skill Level within the given fighting game should be determined from Win Percentage. Looking at a Level 50 player should not mean much when their Win Percentage is only a mere 15%. Therefore, the Win Percentage should be much more emphasized. Factoring both fighting game familiarity and Win Percentage will result in a much more accurate matchmaking system.
We also can’t forget about those who wish to fight players who are more (or less) experienced than them. That is where lobbies come in. When setting up a lobby, the player should be able to specify which skill level is required to get into the lobby. For example, a Beginner wishes to make a lobby that only allows Beginners and Casuals, allowing him to fight others on his skill level, as well as learn a thing or two from the Casuals who are a bit more experienced.
**To Summarize: **Separate players into Beginner, Casual, and Pro Classes from the get-go to help them quickly find their place. Emphasize Win Percentage instead of Level. Use Classes and Win Percentage to help make accurate matchmaking for online multiplayer. Allow the creation of lobbies with customizable options that restrict certain classes from entering (i.e. Beginners only, Beginners and Casuals only, Pros only).
~ THE SINGLEPLAYER EXPERIENCE
Fighting games were always a competitive genre, pitting two human combatants together in a battle of wits and reflexes. One would taste sweet victory, and the other bitter defeat. The genre is arguably the only one that goes well with a cheering crowd in the background. For the most part however, the classic arcade scene is gone, but has fortunately transferred over to online multiplayer. As mentioned before, fighting games go through the cycle of weeding out the less experienced to make room for the elite community, with the former either resorting to offline-play exclusively, or dropping the game altogether out of boredom. Instead of focusing on matchmaking this time however, let us focus on those who are thinking of dropping the game, as this crowd tends to encompass those who choose to play singleplayer.
Two conclusions can be drawn for those who wish to drop the game. One basic conclusion we can come up with, is that your average fighting game can get quite boring without online multiplayer. AI in fighters can never replicate the various fighting styles humans are capable of, and so players are stuck with fighting predictable machines that can’t catch a clue (beating Street Fighter IV’s Arcade Mode on the highest difficulty with one button) or ungodly monsters that react to your every button input (Dead or Alive 4 AI that counters your attacks instantly). This can result in boredom or terrible frustration, practically forcing the player to drop his controller.
Another reason would be the lack of singleplayer content fighting games have. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for example was generally well-received for its solid (mostly solid) gameplay mechanics, but the community noticed there was a lack of modes to choose from. The game featured an offline Arcade Mode, Versus Mode, Practice Mode, and a Challenge Mode, with an online Multiplayer mode.
Here’s where the arguments start happening. If the fighting mechanics in a FIGHTING game are pretty much solid, nothing else really matters does it? When you break it down, all players need for a fighting game are an adequate amount of characters, arenas to fight in, and multiplayer. This holds true for the dedicated fighting fans out there and those are the exact same people who are not complaining about the MvC3’s lack of modes. However, for the casuals and newcomers out there, solid fighting mechanics alone won’t do the job.
What to do: Players need a reason to stick around if they choose to stay away or take a break from multiplayer. Multiplayer should not be the only source of fun. Add a currency system to buy unlockables. Make the unlockables themselves more dynamic, like having additional voice announcers, more color palettes and alternate outfits for characters. Give characters more depth by adding a story mode to play through (one of the biggest complaints concerning MvC3). These are just some suggestions, but the point is to add incentive to play the game when multiplayer is not a desired option. No matter what genre, players like to see progress in a video game. It is progress that lets them know they are accomplishing something. I myself like to play Blazblue Continuum Shift on my PSP because I prefer playing by myself over online multiplayer. I’m not an expert at the game, but it doesn’t prevent me from playing the game solo almost every day of the week. The reason why is because there is a ton of content to unlock in the game. In fact, the suggestions I provided above are derived from this very game. Performing different activities in the game rewards currency, which can be used to purchase unlockables like gallery artwork, additional color palettes, and even over-powered versions of each character for more frantic fighting. Blazblue also has a story mode to play through with fully voiced dialogue and cutscenes to watch as well. Other modes included Abyss Mode, which functioned like a fancy version of the traditional survival mode, and Legion Mode, which was a mixture of survival and team battle.
To top it all off, the fighting mechanics were top notch. However, like many other fighters out there, elite players now populate the online community, but at least those who choose to take the battles offline have a lot more options to choose from to still enjoy the game. Blazblue takes a lot of steps in the right direction, and I can honestly say that more fighting games should follow the example the game has presented. A fighting game with a thriving online scene as well as offline scene, is a great fighting game.
** To Summarize: **Not all players flock to multiplayer, and there are those who have experienced playing online briefly, only to realize they are going to need some practice before heading out there again. Whether the player needs to practice or simply wants to have fun by himself, a fighting game should have an engaging singleplayer experience to give them incentive to keep playing even without company. Players should be rewarded with extra content and have a variety of modes to play through in order to keep the experience fresh. With this method of game design, casuals and newcomers can still have fun, while the hardcore can still sink their teeth into the deeper fighting mechanics and compete against each other in multiplayer.
~ NO IN-GAME GUIDANCE
Games have always provided informative tutorials on how to play them right off the bat, or mechanics are explained as the player progresses through the game. Fighting games should be no exception to this premise. Unfortunately, the best way for newcomers to learn even the most basic fighting mechanics was to refer to outside help, such as Internet forums that use enough fighting game jargon to make your head spin, and combo videos on Youtube that took all the fun out of discovering combos yourself. The convenience of video games is that they can be picked up and played for either a quick burst or extended period of fun. When players discover that some research and homework is required to have that fun, they are likely to choose another game to pick up and play.
What to do: A tutorial must be accessible at any time by the player. Using Blazblue Continuum Shift again as an example, at the very top of the main menu was a tutorial mode especially made for those who have never touched a fighting game before. From moving forward and backward, to jumping and attacking, to performing a flashy Distortion Drive, all with voice over accompanied by text and demonstrations of each task, Blazblue did its best to introduce new players to the game as well as the fighting genre. All future fighting games should do the same. Instead of tailoring to those who are already familiar with the genre, developers should keep the newcomers in mind, and make a nice welcome party for them in the form of an in-depth tutorial.
It is not uncommon for hardcore players to express their anger against developers who try to make a fighting game more accessible to newcomers and casuals. The reason why is because developers think the only way to draw in the new crowd is to dumb down the mechanics of their games. While very appeasing to the new crowd, the developers are alienating the dedicated hardcore crowd as well. Catering to both audiences is a very difficult task, but the important thing is that it’s possible, it can be done. With some careful and cunning game design, fighting games can find themselves in the hands of all gamers and be free from its reputation that is “exclusivity”. In fighting terms, one could say the goal is to buff up the low tier crowd and bring them up to speed with the high tier crowd.