09 to '19: A Decade of Approachability in Fighting Games - lightslingergame.com

09 to ’19: A Decade of Approachability in Fighting Games

GDC
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In this 2019 GDC talk, Iron Galaxy Studios’ Noah Sasso surveys the ways developers have attempted to broaden the audience for one of the oldest and most exciting genres in the industry: fighting games.

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40 Comments

  1. Virtua fighter 5 is my favorite fighting game because the controls are intuitive but it’s not just button mashing

  2. Not a dark age I’m a tekken and soul calibur player, for me it was a golden age for me.

  3. I wish he actually explained how some of those randomness abilities worked so the audience can understand. When you just say "Mr.Game & Watch" you just confuse people.

  4. The worst of modern hack and slash and fighting games is the annoyance of seeing flashy, flushy particle effects everywhere.

  5. I have just finished my first ranked match un fantasy strike , man that fighting game is a blast

  6. In terms of accessibility you simply add mechanics as the person levels up. Chess is extremely complicated certain games are not for everybody. If you’re looking for money fighting games without ip like dbz are not worth doing. People want to win they will play absolutely dirty without remorse. It’s actually a type of stress people are enjoying, there will never be a mainstream fighting game.

  7. Accessibility should focus more on tutorials and integration with online guides to understand the meta of the game and the intricacies of the characters rather than simplification, either of inputs or mechanics, that are just going to hurt the fans of the genre in the hope of attracting a casual audience that's mostly just not interested in competitive gameplay.

    The simplification of inputs in particular is a complete waste of time nowadays and needs to stop, it's crazy that in SFV inputs like Charge Supers and SPDs are almost entirely gone when there already are input shortcuts that make all that stuff very easy to do (if only the game told you how to do, which leads back to the need of good tutorials over simplification). Removing traditional inputs, which were designed purposefully in a certain way and affects regular gameplay very seriously, should not be what developers focus on (and in Street Fighter's case returned to how they were in IV), keep the mechanical depth intact and make stuff easier to learn for the people who are interested in learning instead.

  8. I think one thing that could help players learn (and this may already exist in a fighting game…not sure, been out of the scene for a bit), is an optional postmortem screen. Show the losing player how much total damage they took from being punished or blocking incorrectly, as well as how much damage they dealt by punishing their opponent. Show how many times they were counter hit and explain what that is. Successful anti-airs vs being anti-aired. Maybe a metric for spacing or time being cornered. I think something like that would go a long way in helping a new player understand why they are losing and how they can get better.

  9. This is rare that I see a GDC talk uploaded that was not well-thought out at all.

    For beginners, the explanations are vague and too wordy. For the initiated, they are almost completely redundant. I'm in a middle of 1 hour explanation non-stop, I see a dozen of games cited and no particular problem or solution explained to me (they are cited as well, but we jump ships all the time and don't stop for conclusions). This is a random scatter of thoughts that then got a bit structured, but we're spoiled with GDC talkers that choreograph their thoughts beautifully.

    Love fighting games, very interested in them, very interested in theory and digging for the truth and still was really bored.

  10. Here's my anecdote: I recently bought blazblu central fiction and spent some time practicing moves so I can play single player. I haven't played single player yet. I also just bought Fantasy Strike last week and am feeling good with 2 characters and am playing online. There's plenty of depth to the moves and the game strategy and I'm having a blast. I'd be open to some moves requiring minor joystick inputs like a hadoken or a left-right or down-up. I want to try blazblu again at some point but I gotta say the tree of this move can combo I to this move or if you're in the air this move etc really makes my eyes glaze over. For now I'll just keep loving my fantasy strike and I've barely scratched the surface

  11. I play street fighter a lot on my nes. And we still Play mortal kombat X, it’s the closest game like the oldschool once, from the feeling.

  12. Does this guy just simply shy away from 3D fighting games altogether? Or did he live through that so called "dark age" alone? As I don't recognize this sentiment in that regard thanks to franchises like Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive

  13. I think that accessibility isn't really the problem. League of Legends is riddled with weird, unintuitive mechanics but that doesn't stop it from gaining new players. Young gamers are smart. The problem with fighting games is that it's an old genre. It's tied to a specific culture and the stuff those people like.

  14. accessibility is not desirable. making things more buttons mashy and cuter is lame.

  15. the thing he mentions about new people falling into a "training trap" really does describe my experiences trying to pick up fighting games lol

  16. One thing I often see brought up is that because fighting games are a zero sum game one should focus on the small victories that come from successfully applying concepts and techniques in a real match situation. And since it can be difficult for people to realize what they're doing wrong without going back and analyzing a recording of their play, I wonder if a post-match breakdown of what a player did right or wrong would of any value to new players. But Figuring out what to encourage players to focus on may be difficult. Things like properly defending against jumping opponents, punishing an unsafe attack with combos, throwing defensive players, these seem like a good start for a new player and then perhaps more goals can be introduced depending on the player's stage of development.

  17. In terms of execution there a certainly some arguments that could be said for accessibility but I think readability is the next thing that needs to evolve in fighting games moving forward.

    Fantasy Strike is probably the best example. You literally see your hit points, there are visual indicators that cue you in on invulnerability, and armor.The game literally tells you that a command throw is jump-able. Those are the kind of things in my opinion that help with accessibility.

    I still find that basic tutorials are not very effective for getting you to understand the game or your character as a whole, but I found under night in-births exe:late[st] to be very detailed to the point that if someone spent a few times going over it they'll have a clearer understanding of fighting games in general.

    That game is still heavy on the execution and it's a very offensive game but they at least make an effort to not throw you in blind.

  18. 3:00 What's the game in the lower right, with the green logo? I can't read the text cuz it's too small lol

  19. This talk really has my creative sides flowing right now and it really makes me appreciate the titles this "age" and left me with some interesting thoughts. In particular that in the next "age" since there is room for all sorts of levels of accessibility I think we'll see a move toward newer designs such as mentioned experimenting with win mechanics like Smash.

    Again excellent job to Noah on this talk!

  20. Great talk, loved the explanation of pros and cons for each point brought up. I think the most interesting takeaway was how the most popular games now are some with the most condensed amount of inputs. EVO 2019's most popular games were some with a great amount of depth without the complexity of mechanics. I think something the FGC has taken a lot of pride in is the complexity that comes with their games, which in turn hurts them because the more complex something is the harder it is to teach someone or grab someone's attention. I would say, I think something that was missed was the idea of the spectacle for big moves. While it is boring seeing a character's ultimate animation for the 256th time, for the winner/spectator, it becomes a much hypnotizing moment. These moves aren't really seen much as well since the moves are so risky and need proper setup for them.

    Something else that would really help with accessibility is defining character themes to figure out what kind of character to play. Mario Tennis franchise does this by categorizing each character into 5 categories (All-Around, Power, Defense, Speed, Tricky) which allows people to translate those definitions across the roster and use those words to find who they might like right off the bat. While fighting games characters aren't beholden to certain play styles, their kits are designed a certain aspect. Veterans know which characters are designed to be spammy and campy (projectile and neutral focused), who are bulky powerhouses (large HP and slow, big hitting moves), and who focus around lightning fast combos etc. Defining that for newcomers might be another approach to help people not only learn the game, but also translate that knowledge into other fighting games.

  21. The quest to make every game accessable has turned games into movies, let's be honest, red dead redemption, Uncharted and it's ilk have "expanded the gaming audience" but it did so to people who don't like videogames, aka they hate participation, challenge and mastery. This is what seperates the first generation of gamers and/or "true" type gamers, from passive gamers who see games as hollywood general entertainment.

    When game devs and publishers attracted essentially what amounts to "non gamers" or "tenuous gamers" to the hobby, the people who whine about the participatory aspects of games. That means much of the modern gaming audience aren't really looking for gaming experiences anymore. They're looking for software themepark rides labelled games, but aren't really videogames in the traditional sense. More a glorified movie with minor participation elements, something closer to a highly scripted quick time event then a videogame.

  22. Man. Seeing that SF4 trials screen gave me total PTSD! Some of those trials were incredibly difficult.
    I remember fei long had a trial combo which was medium punch -> medium punch. Sounds easy… couldn't do it. Had to ask on forums how to do that stupid combo lol!

  23. Good talk but I think Noah really underestimates the impact of having robust single-player story modes in fighting games. Ultimately every new FG out there that doesn't already have decades of nostalgic fans like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or Tekken needs some way to loop in new players within a low-pressure environment. Single-player story modes allow players to become invested in characters not just mechanically, but also emotionally willing to spend many hours labbing to pull off their coolest looking moves and optimal combos. I guarantee anyone who developed a love for fighting games back in the 90s didn't know a single thing about frame data or plus on block, they just saw a character that they thought looked really cool and were from that point onward eager to put in the time to learn them because of that emotional connection. Now that the social aspect of arcades have mostly disappeared in the West, it's more important than ever to establish an environment where players can still stick around and have something interesting to do even when they've reached a momentary plateau in their skill level. If all there is to do in your new fighting game is Arcade Mode, 1v1 or Online Ranked, then your playerbase is going to be dead in a week because new players will have completed all your perfunctory SP content and run up against the competitive players who only care about PvP, with no buffer between.

  24. namedropping Ornette Coleman and Lightning Bolt!!! nice

  25. Fighting games really is my country and rap (and i do listen to those as well)

  26. Really good content! It's interesting that Tekken isn't highlighted more often. I enjoyed SF, but I enjoyed the range that Tekken has.

  27. Thanks for a good talk. I feel like it was pretty good but didn't address some things.

    -Endless DLC, grinding to unlock the full game: The new DOA costs like 1000 dollars to buy the full game. MK11 is much the same.
    -Overly mature graphics: I don't mind some stuff, but I play these games with my kids mainly.
    -Most fighting games target the same market audience. Smash Bros. does a good job breaking the mold, and it is very successful.

  28. 47:40 This was a question that could use more of an answer (not blaming Noah for this, knowing every fighting game is not realistic). In the 90s, the "golden age of fighting games", many of the game are considered notoriously difficult to learn by modern. As Noah mentions in the talk, though, developers have been experimenting with approachability for a long time. Indeed, RNG was used in some of the most famous games of that era, specifically Darkstalkers 3: Vampires Savior(abbreviated "vsav") and Samurai Shodown 2 (abbreviated samsho2). It's hard to say whether this was to make the games more approachable, but I'm still gonna work with that assumption.

    Samurai Shodown 2 has some loser in the background run by every once in a while to either throw a bomb (it deals damage if it hits you) or a chicken wing (heals you if you grab it). This makes for some moments where the playing field gets temporarily weighted in a way that can be capitalized on by either player. In this case I'd generally call it a wash in terms of making the game more approachable, though. A good player will capitalize off of it better, so it doesn't really make it easier to learn for new players.

    In Vampire Savior, there is the mechanic of tech hit. I don't wanna get too technical in case this is being read by someone who isn't familiar with fighting game mechanics, but basically, if you hit buttons when you get blocked, you can press a button to have more of an advantage. The system that is in place, thought bases this on RNG. So the button that gives you the highest chance of advantage also gives you the least advantage. So, on paper, this seems like a decent system to help newcomers. If they are mashing buttons on block, they will find themselves having more advantage. However, what instead ends up happening is that the skill ceiling is raised dramatically, because it turns out that there is an optimal sequence of buttons that you need to press in order to maximize your chances of getting the best possible tech hit. So every single time that you block a move, you should be able to input that specific, rather intricate sequence of button presses.

    More recently of course, there are characters like Faust or Zappa from Guilty Gear who have elements of randomness in their kits, and have to learn how to play around it. In these cases however, the randomness is usually something that makes the character harder to learn, because you need to be able to adapt quickly to elements that are out of your control.

    You can see a character like Hero in the recent Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, where they gave him the potential to land a critical hit on any smash attack. This instead became so unpopular among the player base that some TOs have flat-out banned the character, because he was seen as potentially undermining the legitimacy of competitive play.

    To summarize: Adding RNG to fighting games is something that needs to be considered very carefully. It's very difficult to find a spot where you aren't increasing complexity for new players, or possibly undermining the very things that make fighting games appealing. You can easily make the case that a game where RNG is a significant factor in deciding the winner is by definition not a fighting game, based on the criteria that Noah established in the beginning. I think that there is definitely room for experimentation on this, indeed, something as basic as button mashing is itself a kind of RNG-based playing style, but finding a solid spot for the RNG might just be more of a chore than it's worth at the end of the day.

  29. So many good points made. I love how he challenges the assumption that we need features to get people to play these games. "Evo moment 37 did more to get people playing fighting games than any cutscene." Many times devs and even players forget that a checklist on the back of the box only gets you to buy the game not keep playing it. And he is probably one of the only people I've heard to differentiate retention from accessibility. He also confronts the idea that fighting games are inherently difficult to get into because of their 1v1 mostly skill based nature. This is something people entrenched in fighting games will never understand and while he brings up SCII, that's also kinda lost its ground in the 1v1 realm and its design space is endless allowing several people to have fun at once in different modes. I also love how he rejects the idea that execution is some barrier before you can play the game. In the context of fighting games I've often heard this rhetoric that people don't want to practice motion inputs before they can "play the game". And Day9 already said it in his rant about BW which is one of the most mechanically demanding game. "You're already playing the game."

    The FGC has kinda ruined the image of fighting games as promoting it as this though but rewarding thing to play and it turns a lot of people off and it doesn't help because of the inherent problem that when player bases are small it's harder for new people to find fair matches. I never even realized some games tell you to go fight before completing your training. That's such a nice thing to tell players. And he's right often players fall into the training trap and devs are way too happy to design training modes to keep you in that trap and players both casuals and hardcore are too quick to praise this but data shows that maybe not everyone makes it past the tutorial. If there is one thing the game should teach you it's that it's ok to lose. You gain more about how the game works by playing real matches. Just focus on your decision making, the "real game", all the other things, combos, hit confirms, mixups, reacting to overheads, these things will come naturally provided you have the basic idea of how they work. This is why I think fighting games don't need to be simplified. You will learn mechanics eventually either through experimentation or playing the game creating a desire to enjoy learn it.

    I'm extremely disappointed that no one talked about Dojos from SFV. Sure it hasn't taken off but I think the key to player retention may lie in creating a community there. Insert talk about intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards here. Sure the age we live in is one of streamers and reddit shit posting but clans were such an integral part of creating community back in the early days of gaming. Your favorite esports team is probably from an old clan and in a lot of ways it's trying to mimic the local arcades of creating community and finding regulars.

  30. I'm a first timer player in smash and after playing some time and watching YouTube videos I realize the game is short hop centric where you can't expand your move set if can't do the short hop

  31. I still struggle to understand what people found so difficult about parrying in SF3. I remember hearing that rhetoric constantly when SF4 was released and it made no sense even back then. Instead of holding back to block an attack, you tap forward at the moment of impact. It negates all chip damage if timed right and leaves you open to counter attack. That's it. It's a dead simple risk/reward system. Why it got vilified and used a scapegoat for how "complex" fighting games had gotten, I'll never know.

  32. With league, you can watch Faker one shot someone with Le Blank and as long as you have played her at all, you know how he did it, even if you also know you're not skilled enough to pull it off. In a fighting game, well fuck, even if you've memorized the move list, it's still a mystery how those professional games work.

  33. 'Blades of Gory' simplifies the fighting genre with only 3 attacks covering long, mid and close ranges, whilst adding complexity in the blocking (each attack requires a specific block). With no jump or duck it condenses the fighting game to a mastery of range , timing and accurate blocking to create counter opportunities.

  34. In a way, competitive Pokemon players can run up against the sorts of mental limitations that the last guy was talking about. There's not only a huge amount of data to internalize in terms of moves, character stats, items, builds, and team composition, there's also the behind-the-scenes damage calculation process which causes the in-game decision making to become feel-based/experience-based, rather than a simple matter of knowledge. It's not like those things can't be memorized, but there are just so many individual factors that it becomes impractical.

  35. I can't see this genre growing a lot without getting cheaper. Look at all the big games out there. They're all free-to-play titles with relatively friendly monetization models. How do fighting game devs expect people to get into the genre (or their specific game) if it's locked behind at least $60 + several $20 Season Passes..

    FGs need to adapt, and I'm hopeful Riot's Project L will do a good job at this exact thing.

  36. Part of me wonders how much of a fighting game's ability to remain approachable depends on how much of a cultural force it is beyond the scope of a dedicated playerbase. Consistently, I see people compare what they see in fighting games to what they've been exposed to through either Street Fighter or Smash, and games that fall in an area where they aren't similar enough to those launch points end up becoming a large challenge for many players. One way I have seen this alleviated is by using a different medium for a fighting game: Smash Bros for instance can be compared to horseplay where you have to wrestle the other guy off the couch, or in extreme cases a game like Mario Tennis Aces uses the sport of tennis to create an environment where learning concepts is steeped in real world logic. This takes advantage of the fact that the average person is more likely to know what a 'backhand' is as opposed to a 'low'. It even works as a way to broach far more complex topics: the concept of the Neutral Game is something I struggled to explain to anyone without a fighting game background, but the minute I tried to explain it to a friend through Aces, they understood it as the rallying phase of the game, and that's now my go-to comparison even outside of that specific game.

  37. This kind of thinking reminds me that book Kurt Vonnegut should the strongest people have to be handicap forced to wear extra weight belts because of their strength intelligent forced to wear sound distracting headphones to stop them from thinking since we can't raise people up to the higher standards that would be too difficult we have to bring down those that have exceptional abilities to lower expectations because of "fairness" that's not reality, in the end all you're doing is showing highlighting the other people's shortcomings and weaknesses it's showing that they cannot compete at the higher level and they never will so we have to lower the standards for a false sense for fair play

  38. 11:28 those words should be written on stone.
    FGC games need: Rollback + Matchmaking + Spectator/Streamer mode.

  39. For Honor has really succeeded at adventuring into the experimental area. You can be introduced into the fighting game mechanics by playing their MOBA format that's more suitable to friendly casual experiences.

  40. Execution is the sole reason people play fighting games.

  41. 'Combos' are what put me off fighting games.

  42. Pocket Fighter included gem drops that power up specific moves. This was a form of randomness.

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