Fighting The Curve: How Complicated Controls Hold Back the Fighting Genre
Do you like fighting games? Does defeating your opponent in a strategic collision of skill and prowess make your heart beat faster than that of a small rodent? Do you love dazzling your foes with long, intricate combos that leave both his jaw and the jaws of all onlookers decidedly dropped? Do you enjoy spending hours upon hours in practice mode learning commands and combos with frame-specific inputs so technical they make you feel a dunce? Do the terms QCB, QCF, HCB or FCF mean anything to you?
You probably answered yes to all those questions except for the last two. The acronyms stand for: Quarter Circle Backwards, Quarter Circle Forward, Half Circle Backwards and Full Circle Forwards. If you like fighters but didn’t know this, you should read on.
The fighting game genre has always been a very varying, very deep facet of gaming. Its popularity is minuscule in comparison to other genres like say sports or shooting games, while its fans tend to be dedicated and practically religious. Not everybody likes fighting games though. In numerous polls and summaries, the fighting game genre was found to be least popular; Even less popular than RPGs. But why is this?
Is it because of the raw, no hand-holding competitive nature of the game play? I think not. Why? Well because the undisputed best selling genre of video games is Shooting games and the majority of those are competitive, so we cannot say its because the masses can’t stand a little competition.
Is it because there aren’t a wide variety of fighters available? I would have to say no again. Nearly every fighting game (with obvious exceptions to titles in the same series, Street Fighter, Street Fighter II, etc.) is an entirely different experience, more so in fact than games in many other genres. If you’ve played one military FPS, you’ve played another and so on and so forth. The same can be said of various JRPGs, RPGs, Sandbox, Action games and more. However, most fighting games offer an experience so different than other games in the genre that you find yourself returning to them, months, even years after release.
So then what gives? Why are fighting games still such a niche genre being outperformed by many a gaming facet?
The answer, ladies and gentleman, is the difficulty curve. If you’ve ever played a shooting game, you can pick up Call of Duty and compete. If you’ve ever played a football game, you can pick up Madden and compete. However, if you’ve played every fighter to date, you will probably still get decimated when you first pick up BlazBlue to the fullest extent. The same can be said about Street Fighter or Tekken.
There is a very good reason for this. To compete at an adequate level in fighting games requires a level of patience so extensive that you may as well play nothing but said game for days at a time. You may spend more time in practice learning commands and combos than you will ever spend competing, and this, I think, has become a relevant blockade in the evolution of the genre. While I in no way denounce the need to familiarize yourself with each game’s systems and mechanics, I do think that a long, hard look needs to be taken at the way we traditionally play fighting games.
Listening to me rant, one might infer that I am not very good at or dislike fighting games. I assure you this is not the case. The fighting genre is without doubt my favorite genre of video games, and I make it a habit to become more than proficient in all the fighters I get. I often defeat players of much higher rank than me in online games like Tekken 6 and Soul Calibur IV. Not to imply that I don’t get my rear handed to me a good portion of the time, which will always be the case in anything online.
The revelation came to me while demoing AKSYS’s new fighting game BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. The game features a “Beginner Mode” which, with the press of a single button, allows players to pull off some wonderfully complicated and intricate combinations. They even allow the mode to be used competitively online in the ranked matches. This new mechanic truly interested me, its simplicity and ease of use allowed friends who would never try the original BlazBlue for their fear of me drive spamming with V-13, to jump right in and compete.
Now is this new mode perfect? No, it isn’t. You will still get creamed against the skilled and it takes a couple of minutes in practice mode to see how you can spread out to different combo paths and chains. Also, everyone can see that you’ve selected “beginner mode” and very little credit or merit is earned in victories using it. I do still consider it a firm step forward. At least they are trying to make the game more appealing to the beginners, or the fans who simply cannot dedicate hours of their day learning how to play rather than actually playing.
Also, many times commands and techniques are simply too confusing or intricate. Spending a few moments in Super Street Fighter IV or BlazBlue CS’s challenge modes will help you understand what I mean. Too often, we see openings that are the perfect opportunities for punishments like Shoryuken or Kikosho but find ourselves wrestling with the controls instead of performing our deadly follow-ups.
Why must I input a complicated directional input and or button combo in frame specific accuracy? Why not just press a button while pushing forward to deliver the punishing command I sought out so much. I mean, it is my opponent and not the game itself that I am actually fighting right? The focus needs to be taken off of this overly complex input mechanism which may be rendering the genre repulsive to outsiders. Even if now is the perfect moment to launch my uppercut, it doesn’t make a difference if I’m going to spend a whole two seconds trying to do it. They’ll be halfway across the screen by then.
I am positive developers do not intend for gamers to have experiences like this with the games, but it happens every time something comes out. This means that the fight won’t be entirely between the two combatants. It’ll be between them and also, between the player and the game’s often ridiculously sensitive and specific command set. Just imagine, if this were remedied, the entire fight would be between the combatants. You would be thinking “When this kick misses, I’ll counter with my blast” instead of “I know I did the damn input for it, where the hell is my blast!?”.
I know that many die-hard fighting fans will disagree with me and I understand that. What we cannot disagree with however, is the relatively tiny appeal the genre has to a wide audience. The numbers speak volumes about this particular situation. Fighting games, which are brilliant, sell nothing when compared to the big name shooter and RPG games, and this could very well be why. The fact is, fighting games only appeal to a select few and this is possibly (probably?) because of the generally steep learning curve involved with playing them well.
Regardless of your (or my) opinion on the matter, it is imperative that some developer make the necessary changes to this repeating trend. Soon, fighters could end up selling less than 100,000 copies as the industry progresses, and then they’ll die altogether because they won’t make money, which is obviously the only reason video games are even created anymore. What do you think?