Street Fighter V - Newcomer Thoughts

Published by Capcom, for Playstation 4

I played Super Street Fighter 2 (SNES) for a brief period in like, dunno maybe grade 7? Apart from that, and another (single player) stint with a pirated Tobal No. 2 I've never managed to engage with fighting games.

Yesterday I played Street Fighter V (PS4) for an hour or two at a friends place. I just wanted to play around a bit and form an impression, not so much of the game itself, but of what it was like to try and learn how to play it. So these thoughts are just "newcomer impressions", not anything resembling a legitimate critique.

First Impressions

The immediate feeling I get, related to my earlier experiences, is that Street Fighter has collapsed in on itself.

What I (vaguely) remember of the Street Fighter universe, which was a sort-of blown-up 80's action movie aesthetic (think: Bloodsport, Kickboxer, American Ninja) has morphed into, well, a quasi-X-men aesthetic? Weird, but maybe explained by Marvel v. Capcom cross-pollination.

The menus feel cheap. In particular, and again just as a newcomer, there is a huge delay on the character-select screen when you cursor over a character and when they appear. This makes it practically impossible to get a sense for who the characters are in any normal way-- I'm sure to someone familiar with it, this isn't that noticable since you already know who you want. But I want to kind of menu around and just be like, "oh, this guy looks cool." Impossible.

The victory screen is completely static, with a simple text quote along the bottom; this feels incredibly off to me.

Visually, I suppose I'd like less detail on the characters, or rather, less literal contrast. The "pencil line" style texturing is OK, but why does it have to be so black? The arenas are nice, very entertaining at times, but I swear some of the background characters animate at less than 60fps. For the love of god. Why.

My friend kept accidentally pausing the game. This feels like a design flaw, but it didn't happen to me.

Combos

Looking at the menus reveals there are a dizzying array of combos. Mastering combos feels necessary and daunting.

There are so many of them. The way they are notated on the menu feels so cryptic. I was able to figure out one or two, but the rest I either didn't understand the notation or I wasn't able to trigger them.

As a new player, you are immediately made aware that you will be easily overpowered by anyone who knows and understands the combo system. It's disheartening. Whatever mastery over the basic moveset you obtain will be irrelevant in the face of combos.

But. I know this is Street Fighter.

I also know that for instance Super Smash Bros approached this problem by assigning special moves to one button, making them easy to pull off (but... I also never got into SSB-- this is a weirdly unqualified journal, I know, I know.)

Divekick had my interest for it's very minimalist take. I don't know how the Mortal Kombat series works or Marvel v. Capcom but I think they are closer in mechanics to Street Fighter, in that they have combo systems.

I have some ideas, which aren't in any way meant as ideas for improving SFV but for perhaps where there is a "missing link", i.e., some ideas that might be useful when designing a fighting game. Please take this with a grain of salt :)

Idea 1 - No Combos

No combos. A pared-down system, focused just on punches and kicks. This seems relatively simple and obvious. Are there fighting games that do this?

I can't but help but feel in playing SFV that the obvious mechanics are the (high, low) x (strong, mid, weak) x (punching, kicking) x (high, low blocking) actions. (To make an auto-block that activates when you aren't vulnerable due to a wind-up or cool-down from an attack would be another obvious simplification.) This is the part that is easily learnable. A game built on this could be interesting almost from the start.

On the other hand, given this limitation there would be no point in character ability asymmetry, of course, which is central to Street Fighter.

It could be really interesting and relatively accessible to play a game like this. Not as stripped down as Divekick and not as wholly different as Super Smash Bros. In some ways, maybe this is Nidhogg.

Idea 2 - Specialized, Underpowered Combos

What if combos were such that they weren't really that useful for dealing damage, but could only be used strategically. In particular, what if combos were structured so that they were only useful in certain specific situations? Sort of like in an RTS where the rarer units are not seen that commonly, because using them is normally not the right approach, but could still be very powerful if used cleverly. (I don't mean damage-dealing powerful, but strategically powerful in other ways.)

What I think would be nice is a fighting game where a person with a moderate amount of experience can still be challenged when playing against someone with next to no experience. Keep the core system (punches and kicks) easy to learn, and make most of the match depend on this. The point is to bridge the gap between an average player and a new player, but still allow a high-level player to reach deep into possible strategies and reach for the heavens.

Idea 3 - Flow Combos Only

I'm not sure that SFV has flow combos, by which I mean combos that spring up as a result of a sequence of normal attacks (e.g., mid punch -> mid punch -> mid punch resulting in the third being an uppercut.)

Flow combos are easy and natural to learn, since they don't require any special input. A fighting game based on flow combos might be easier for a newcomer.

Towerfall, Meta Game

One thing that impressed me about Towerfall is how quickly you can get to the "meta game", i.e., how soon you can get past the basic control mechanics and into the "what is the other guy going to do" stage. (High-level Towerfall players do use more advanced control mechanics.)

In Towerfall this is accomplished (in part) by having arrows auto-aim slightly. So the intent of your shot is in some sense more important than the specifics of your timing. This gets it immediately away from mastery over the controls per se and into the realm of strategy, which is where things really live.

Bushido Blade

A game that took a pared-down approach was Bushido Blade (PS1). The control mechanics are actually really simple, but the strategy was quite deep.

Bushdio Blade (as I recall) had a few key elements that I think made it what it was:

The last two in particular are key. Stances were along an axis of attack and defence. By putting your character in a certain stance, their attack would be more or less powerful. But it changed how effectively they could block. So a very powerful attack launched from a certain stance was a risky endeavour, since it left you open by default (not just when you were attacking, per se.) The auto blocking (as I recall) was also key, because it effectively eliminated any required twitch-reaction.

Bushido Blade achieved asymmetry by having a selection of weapons which all worked differently and had different stances.

Free movement (being able to move to higher ground, for instance, or run from your opponent for a long stretch of time) is very interesting in that there are fewer "walls" to run your opponent up against. It would be possible even in a functionally 2D game such as SFV to allow for free movement, for instance by placing fighters in a circular arena that scrolls and loops back in on itself.

One hit kills always fascinate me. In Bushido Blade they work well because of the auto-blocking system; in effect, with the right stance you can't be that easily killed, even if you do very little control-input-wise.

Future Plans

I'm pretty aware that lack of any experience in fighting games, even SSB, is weird. Maybe I will jump in on SFV and write more once I've had a chance to learn the systems, or, maybe I will dig up SSF2 and look at that again.

Either way, I'd love to hear from someone who knows what they're talking about on this! So lend me your insights, do :)

October 24 2016


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