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Breaking Down Barriers
Solutions to problems we haven't solved
So, if Rising Thunder isn't effectively reducing fighting game barriers to entry, what can we do to solve this problem?
First, we should strive make every move and maneuver easy to perform, not just special and super moves. Use button dashing instead of double tapping. Heck, use combinations of buttons for simple commands like "throw." Compress buttons so newbies have fewer controls to memorize. There's no reason "super" needs to be its own button when pressing an attack and a special button together does nothing. Rising Thunder is an 8 button game! That's a lot! Mortal Kombat isn't much better at 7, or Street Fighter at 6. It's actually hard for new players to memorize 8 distinct buttons. Games like Guilty Gear, Under Night-In Birth, and Virtua Fighter have created deep and complex fighting games using only 5, 4, and 3 buttons respectively.
Second, make move utility apparent. When a move has invincibility frames on it, make that clear with some sort of visual indicator. Include frame data and hitboxes in training mode (Skullgirls and Dead or Alive have already done so). Include indicators when you are getting mixed up, counter hit, or reset. All of these have been done in the past, yet, for some reason, we forget when designing something new.
We should also change the way we think of fighting game tutorials. Tutorials are more often than not ignored by new fighting game players and when we force players to utilize tutorials by, say, making them part of a single-player mode, they just get frustrated.
Instead, tutorials should be adaptive, and should be placed where the majority of the action is: Vs Mode. Ideally, the game should watch for common mistakes that you make over the course of a match and suggest tutorials that could help you when the match is over. If the game sees you getting hit by cross-ups it would suggest a tutorial on how to defend against them. If the game sees you mashing buttons, it would take you to a basic tutorial about the importance of not mashing.
Thirdly, fighting games have to be designed such that we, the players, change the way we think about them. In the early days of fighting games, knowing how to do a special move was, well, special. In the very first Street Fighter, a single hurricane kick or uppercut could deplete most of an opponent's life. Performing one was hard, but that didn't matter. The controls were bad enough that you couldn't expect to get one out regularly anyway. Also, they weren't a core part of the game! Rather, they were a secret that you could impress your friends with.
These days, special moves aren't special, they are a necessity for even basic play. Yet we still treat them as special. We hide away their commands in move-lists that few players even reference the first time they pick up the game, or ever! We name them and shroud them in special hit effects. Everything we know about fighting game design treats these moves as optional. Perhaps that's why so many players treat them as optional as well.
It's like we are designing a chess set, but keeping the knights in a hidden compartment with a puzzle lock.
And finally, we should always strive to learn from the past. Many fighting games have already found interesting fixes to many of the problems plaguing the genre, and we should perhaps consider using their solutions, rather than choosing to be different at the cost of reintroducing those problems once more.
"Learn To Play, Scrub!"
First, be a better teacher
As a final note, a popular response to any designer looking to reduce the complexity of fighting games is that "players should just learn the game." This has been the mantra of the hardcore fighting game player for ages. Having a problem dashing? Just learn how. Don't know which moves can be canceled? Learn it in training. Can't quarter circle? Step up to my level, scrub!
But we have been telling players to just learn for a long time, and it hasn't been working. Instead of simply telling players to learn, we should examine how we can be better teachers. That's exactly what Killian and the Cannon brothers are trying to do with Rising Thunder, but one button specials are only the first step in the process, the first move of the first pawn in a long and complicated game of fighting game chess.
What do you think? What would you do to make fighting games easier to learn and play? Let us know in the comments.