Patching and updates in general. A discussion of time and importance

Ok, I’d like to bring up a discussion regarding a somewhat touchy subject: Patches. Generally speaking the “never patch” crowd has died down a bit and begun to accept patches to a limited respect as having a place in the fighting game scene. What I’d like to discuss is the idea of time frames and size. Now obviously in a fighting game, constant patching can hurt the ability to find tech or utilize tech and can lead to less creative exploration of what a character is capable of for worry that your time will be lost come the next update which removes that option. However I also believe that patches can help keep a game fresh, shift a stagnant meta game that may take years to shift or not shift at all otherwise, and fix up issues with a game that weren’t seen previously.

The idea that patching is a scrubby way of dealing with problems and the image of “Nerf, Buff, Patch, Adapt” is a bit archaic and silly. If you look at a lot of older fighting games, they received several revisions sometimes in somewhat quick succession. This leads to the idea that if the digital capabilities of patching were possible back then they’d have done it. However because it wasn’t they had to add additional content or unlock content (boss characters.) and clean things up so that they could have an excuse to charge full price for these updates as they had to do things like create new arcade boards, release new cartridges, release new disks, ect and those are a lot more expensive than simply releasing a downloadable update.

Let’s look at some classic titles and their dates

SF2 - 1991
SF2:CE - 1992
SF2:HF - 1992
SSF2 - 1993
ST - 1994

SF3 - 1997
SF3: 2I - 1997
SF3: 3S - 1999

CvS - 2000
CvS2 - 2001

KOF 94 - 1994
KOF 95 - 1995
KOF 96 - 1996
KOF 97 - 1997
KOF 98 - 1998
KOF Kyo - 1998
KOF R1 - 1998
KOF 99 - 1999
KOF 2000 - 2000
KOF 2001 - 2001
KOF 2002 - 2002
KOF EX - 2002

X-Men COTA - 1994
MSH - 1995
XMen vs SF - 1996
MSH vs SF - 1997
MvC - 1998
MvC2 - 2000

As you can see, many times a sequel or semi-sequel (E.G. minor update with new features.) came only a year later or sometimes even within the same year. This lends itself to the idea of patching if we look at SF4 we see similar timelines.

SF4 (Arcades) - 2008
SF4 (Home) - 2009
SSF4 - 2010
SSF4AE - 2011
AE2012 - 2011/2012 (December 11th 2011, basically 2012.)
v201X - ??? (Could be this year or early next year for all we know.)

So what is wrong with the idea of patching a title once a year with some tweaks to keep things fresh for the life of the title until the next major release in the series?

Now we have 1 glaring issue which I think points to the idea of a moratorium on how often you can patch or wait for a patch: ST:HD Remix. HD Remix shows that there is a limit to how long you can wait to update a game the update to ST came 14years later, at this point people who play the game are NOT going to adopt the new title very willingly as the time spent between updates was so long that they are too invested in the previous version. Almost 15years of training and exploration could potentially be lost. I think that is why a 3rd Strike rebalance or a Marvel 2 rebalance could never happen. Despite the fact both of those titles are extraordinarily imbalanced (while still retaining a competitive scene due to the strength of the core mechanics and depth of gameplay that the top characters exhibit) the fact is that the time has passed, no one would adopt the new version. I think that the most time that can be waited between updates without just making a whole new game is ~2-3 years. Any longer than that and people will push against the idea of changing the status quo.

I dont really have a problem with updates, as long as theyre kept to a minimum. The main issues I see are:

  1. Its hard to learn matchups that constantly change
  2. Learning how to play against new characters can be a lot of work
  3. the current crop of fighting game fans would prefer that good characters get nerfed instead of learning how to beat them
  4. What we think is weak or strong isnt always true, case in point, T Hawk in super turbo. Back in the day, he was considered one of the worst characters, now, many people see him as top tier, it only took like 20 years, but imagine if he got buffed.

Remember all the people who thought Dudley was going to be broken tier in Super? A lot of people also thought Chun was legitimately top tier, and we now understand the meta game of SF4 better now, and we see that she really couldnt have been if the game continued on.

THawk in ST is only top tier though because of one specific corner setup that is an inescapable TOD his overall strengths are still kind of mid-low but I see what you are trying to say.

#2 is true. #3 I think is I think an issue that has been there since the start but you have to remember how much easier it is to get in touch with more members of the fighting game scene now than even 6-7 years ago. Which has led to a much larger voice for those who have greivances than previously. In addition it is much easier to communicate with developers (something that has been echoed by many developers even outside of the FG community as being both easier and generally a good thing. Brian Fargo mentioned it recently when discussing Wasteland 2 and Torment). This means if someone had an issue that didn’t have an OPTION but to shrug it off and either quit playing (which happened a lot, FGs in general are far more popular for LONGER now than previously where they’d lose popularity except among the very hardcore audience of tournament goers) or adapt to or adopt the strategy.

Not having any other options kind of removes the possibility of any other outcome. You can say that people given only the choice between A & B would never choose C had that option been available for them to pick at the time.

Also the whole Dudley and Chun thing shows that time is indeed a factor. I think knee jerk fast updates are a bad idea for a fighting game (E.G. less than 6months between patches.) however with the new ability to spread tech quickly and EASILY (whereas previously it was quite a bit slower and required usenet and couldn’t as easily be recorded without hardware.) means things are in general discovered much faster than ever before. Personally I think a balance update once a year or once 18months is PERFECT for keeping the game fresh and fixing issues. Any faster is too fast for sure, 2years is a bit too long.

there is no problem with patching so long as the elements being patched are fully understood.

glitches and/or things not working as intended like characters randomly falling out of moves or unintentional infinites, reverse blocking/unblockables and anything else that hurts the game more than it helps should be patched out much sooner than one year.

character balance is much tougher to address. we dont always understand the strength of the characters in only one year. its hard to say what characters need the most help in ae2012 for example so theres a good chance some current mid tier character will get over buffed and end up as the new S tier.

the reverse example is vanilla sagat. the meta game hadnt been developed and theres a good chance he wasnt the best character in that game. but he got nerfed most because we thought dp fadc ultra was the end game at that time.

Here is a question then, when is it ok to patch for balance if not after a year? As necro pointed out, new tech just came out for THawk and ST came out 19years ago. There is a point in time you have to say “good enough”

whenever the characters are understood. not saying 20yrs or whatever. but for 39 characters, one year might not be enough.

That is about as much of a non-answer as you can give. WHEN do we decide a character is “understood”? People still find stuff for 3S and ST so are those characters “understood”? Not to mention there is a limit on how long you can wait before not only the issue of the community pushing back against losing tech they’ve developed over the last X time but the issue of returns for investments from the developer. The longer you wait the more substantial the update has to be to garner any sort of return on the cost of development due to lack of interest from players.

If you look at the history of FGs though you see about a year between updates in the classic era. Not only were those updates occurring more frequently, but they were less informed. The communication lines between the developers and the community was almost non-existent during those periods and the ability for the developers to find examples of things that were potentially broken or imbalanced was almost entirely self reliant as they didn’t always have access to tournament footage and they certainly didn’t have consistent access to the word of mouth style of information sharing for tech that often occurred in those days.

Then to top it off, the players themselves were less informed. There was less easy access to frame data, hitboxes, training mode, trials, ect as well as patch notes from developers being basically nonexistent meaning each time that the game was updated the community had to go on a witch hunt to find what was changed and what remained the same and we all know how superstitious the FGC often claiming things “feel different” or that things were changed that weren’t right after an update comes out, when later on it is discovered that much of the stuff that they thought got changed was actually the exact same as before.

Look at Starcraft. Look at how a carefully involved developer feeling the pulse of their customers and community and listening attentively managed to keep an old-ass game alive and extremely popular for a decade.

Patches are a good thing. Balancing is a good thing. There is no reason to argue otherwise except nostalgia or some shit.

Starcraft is an RTS the things are bit more linear in terms of how balance is done. You can alter things like speed, damage, health without worrying quite as much about how two things might interact in an odd way like in a fighting game where altering a frame of a move could change whether a combo works or not.

Also many people DON’T like how often Blizzard updates Starcraft 2 and how often they updated Starcraft 1. I personally think that they have a bit of a knee jerk reactionary patching for their games and should tone it down a smidge. Same thing with League of Legends which has balance tweaks and a new character added every 2-4 weeks.

Uh, Starcraft 1 was barely patched. It got a bunch of bug fixes yeah because the game was and is a buggy mess in many ways, but the balance patching was minimal and just didn’t happen at all anymore for a significant portion of the game’s life. What made Brood War good was the stability of the balance combined with the hours Korean pros spent training, nevermind the fact that they had professional mapmakers who combined managed to make something interesting. It does help that SC1 didn’t have any factions based on ignoring basic RTS principles, had an economy that scaled well, and had actual terrain effects.

SC2 was the polar opposite of all that. No impactful terrain mechanics (chokes are the only feature that actually matters), lots of dps so things die fast => You have to confront a force with something equally big because control and positioning doesn’t matter anywhere near as much. There’s factions built on ridiculous things like warpgates and forcefields that completely screw with the basic assumptions of the game, and Wings of Liberty was a constant rollercoaster ride of kneejerk patching that left the game in a truly miserable state. HotS is just bandaids on the broken mess, not actual fixes on anything. And some of the bandaids themselves are pretty strange. Like, there’s unit designs that make for good DotA/LoL heroes and then there’s unit designs that make for good units in a Starcraft-like RTS. Blizzard’s new units in HotS are largely of the former sort.

Being a Starcraft fan until of late, it didn’t feel like Blizzard had the pulse on anything. They rather felt like blind monkeys throwing darts on a board to see what kind of disaster to visit on the playerbase the next time. That’s the kind of stuff that made me quit. (As a lulzy sidenote, WoL’s life, too, included a faction being nerfed basically every patch ever when it was a handful of Koreans who were winning with it. And did people ever cry.)

Balancing is good. But you need a lot of time to be able to tell what is actually broken, what is merely somewhat overpowered and what is acceptable. A short amount of time doesn’t differentiate between those. As an example in the aforementioned Brood War it sometimes took years for a counter to some dominating strat to surface, yet they did.

Some revisions were rejected by their respective scenes as well with the time between versions not really being a factor. SFA2 -> Gold, SFA3-> Upper, KOF XI arranged version and the CVS2 EO patch come to mind. I don’t really remember the other well known patches that got rejected (most examples are usually port updates that aren’t “arcade perfect”), but the “freshness” of the gameplay or “fixing” certain glitches didn’t really matter as these versions got dismissed pretty quickly in favor of their predecessors.
It seems that’s becoming less of a thing as we shift more towards consoles and online play being the primary option for the majority of the scene. You don’t patch… you don’t get to play a lot of your available competition (and for UMVC3… I don’t care. It’s online is ass and all they tried to patch was my ability to use DLC costumes for free so fuck that lol).

It’s also time and console exclusivity that played somewhat into those (in addition to gameplay differences.) SFA3 Upper came out 3 years after SFA3 was released, which I think is on the very tail end of the longest period of time you can wait for an update before players reject it. SFA2 Gold was a PS1/Saturn exclusive at a time when FGs were mostly arcade based for tournaments. CvS2 EO was Gamecube / Xbox exclusive and in addition removed a part of the game that had become core already (Roll Cancels).

Just wanting to point out on the two Capcom updates that came out the same year:

  1. CE->HF only required coding. No new art was actually used (Chun’s ‘fireball’ is just two Yoga Fires pasted together, for instance), so they could get that version out the door quickly once they decided to compete against the bootlegs. This took 7 months to show up, but Capcom didn’t really PLAN to put this version out, so I can see why it would have been a little delayed.

  2. NG->2I was mostly the same. Hugo and his stage were found in an unfinished state in New Generation, while Urien is just a Gill headswap. Notice also that all the truly NEW backgrounds (Sao Paulo, San Francisco, Egypt, Hidden Shrine, Mt. Fuji) are rather devoid of animation compared to what was in NG (remember, Munich counts as a returning New Generation stage here). Also took 7 months, but considering they must have started just after cleaning up or as they were releasing New Generation, that kind of turnaround time is feasible.

2I also added a whole new moveset for Yang

I think it’s actually very difficult to compare FGs which arguably had their glory days of fame in Arcades to RTS/MOBA games which came to define the wave of online competitive gaming when it comes to balance principle.

I do agree that when you look at a game like League of Legends, where they have over 100 Heroes to choose for games that are played in 5v5 team formats and they aim to release 1-2 new heroes every month that often “Balance” changes are incredibly knee-jerk and in some cases, are implemented based on performance trending instead of actual objective analysis (because like many have said, a few weeks or a few months is not nearly enough time to understand all possible matchups, strengths and weaknesses). But in a similar vein, the game is much easier to learn, there isn’t much mechanical skill requirement and one doesn’t need to develop unique timings or muscle memory to play, the same skill set is applicable regardless of which hero you opt to play with and as long as you’re accepting that there will always be imperfect balance (some heroes will always be better than others) then you can adapt and grow with a game style that promotes a changing meta and tries to give every hero a chance at the spotlight.

When it comes to a FG though, you do require significant mechanical skill to be able to play a character at the highest level, everything from understanding frame data and execution of incredibly frame tight links and traps and small balance changes to things like range, combo damage output, comboability, frames etc can mean significant re-work for the players playing these characters at a high level.

What I do disagree with though, is the argument that just because we are still learning about characters and matchups and discovering new tech that we cannot make adjustments in the meantime based on positive objective analysis. In FGs particularly, there will always be someone who is top tier and someone who is bottom tier, it would be incredibly difficult to have everyone be 5:5 with everyone else without the majority of the stylistic elements being lost.

A more aggressive balancing schedule with smaller more iterative changes could actually be beneficial to players having to adjust less whenever a new balance patch drops every 1-2 years and overhauls the entire game. It also allows developers to revert changes that cause unexpected behaviours, for instance, if we see that Cammy is undeniably top tier due to her combo-ability into big damage and relatively safe options, we can make small changes to her combo damage and see if that affects her matchups without necessarily altering her play style, available tech, or existing knowledge requirements.

That’s not to say that all things can be balanced by damage tweaks or stun/vitality changes, and I absolutely agree that any significant alterations that force people to relearn a character needs to be well thought out over a longer period of time with more ample understanding of a character.

Some unfortunate circumstance is that some characters will never be immensely popular, and will never have the same high level representation for us and the developers to truly understand the characters and the matchups. It’s very easy to “Balance” Ryu because we see so many Ryus, we know exactly how he plays and what his tools are and what he can do in the matchups at the highest levels.

It’s considerably harder to balance a hero like Gen, who has tons of tools but sees very little play, or a hero like E.Ryu or Oni, who’ve been around for a much shorter period of time and don’t have many serious adopters yet (or might never).

Since when is a sequel the same thing as an update?
Just sayin…

I think it had more to do with gameplay differences than exclusivity during that time because each of those updates made a drastic enough change for people to argue/dismiss it in favor of the original version despite there being more than enough people with an available system/copy to run a tournament of the updated game. Instead we ended up running the console ports that were closest to the original/arcade ports (and Alpha 3 pretty much just died as a regular tournament game even though it was updated through console several times before it even reached the arcade version of upper). As far as 3 years, I don’t think that’s too much time in between for people not to be ready to move on… they just didn’t like the changes. Vampire Savior is still played today over VH2 and VS2 and those games are only months apart as far as time between updates.

This didn’t happen with SF4, as console SF4 (and then SSF4) became the standard for EVO with no characters banned, so any arcade player would’ve had to practice on console if they wanted to be fully prepared for EVO and any other console tournament they attended. I remember an argument of banning Gouken and Seth at FR that year did come up though.

Also, as an aside, when MVC2 was being ported to the PS3/360 (before MVC3 was announced and probably before SF4 was released), I remember some people enthusiastically talking about wanting a balance update as an option for the port on Alphaism radio in the same vein that most of us talk about balance changes every time another SF4 update gets announced: with the idea that the lower characters should be brought up (while Jwong came on and said he thought it would be better if the top characters in MVC2 were brought down, surprisingly enough). This is after the game’s been the way it was for at least 7-8 years, but as mentioned above, no sequel was announced yet (HDR was the only recent capcom update out then IIRC).
It’s mainly been after a few new capcom fighter updates that I see players of an older series less ready to accept a possible update for that series because they don’t “trust” the folks currently working there not to rebalance it into mediocrity/to their liking. They don’t want to risk that change when they like the game well enough as is (I’d be willing to risk for an update to SF3 though, because I’m curious how the scene would actually react to it).

This isn’t even exclusive to the new scene…

This ALWAYS happened… SRK was all “OMG fix MvC2” back in the day… But at the time, Capcom didn’t listen, and the entire FGC was about 1/5th of what it is today, so the voice wasn’t as loud. It happens now because Capcom’s involved and the FGC is tremendous by comparison.

If you were to warp back to 2k3-2k5, I joined SRK, people were all like, “OMG 2k4 members are the worst” for the same reasons that the 2k4 members are like “OMG 2k8 members are the worst” It’s no different.

Patches need to be thought out. I wouldn’t call Super a “patch” to Vanilla 4 - though I would say AE is one to SSF4, only because it’s essentially the same game with changes, whereas SF4 to SSF4 is a tremendous amount of difference - similar to the SI > 3S thing, where that’s OBVIOUSLY a different game, whereas NG > SI… not so much. CE>HF is another “patch” update, where SSF2 is a completely different game.

And just for the record, some of these updates and patches (or whatever you wish to call them) are STILL rejected… There’s still CE and HF scenes, there’s STILL a SI scene, there’s still MSH and XSF players, and there’s still people that play King98, 2k2, etc…

Anyway… For the most part, the majority of people that want patches don’t understand what they’re asking for, and the majority of people that complain about the patches are those that are unwilling to just deal with relearning things. If you have a deep enough understanding of the game system, most major matchups don’t change much, and you only have a real handful that are truly going to affect your game - basically those changes that affect your character(s) directly and those that change your hard and on-the-fence matchups.