An Overview of The Current State of Fighting Games
Fighting games have struck a chord with a particular sector of the gaming minority, however a new generation of gamers has yet to experience a true rebirth of the genre. Marred by difficult controls, agonizing learning curves and detailed frame knowledge; its no surprise that the fighting game genre has yet to work its way into the new found casual gaming market. Their are some examples of fighting games attempting to go main stream such as the ever popular "super smash brothers" and sony's latest party brawl "Playstation: All Stars", but these games don't deliver on the same kind of head gamey combat that really makes you feel like your inside your opponents head. Sure, baiting out a ledge grab is fun the first few times but many casual to serious players seldom experience any actual mind gaming outside of the occasional evade and grab. What these games do offer is various gameplay options to give new players a chance against some more experienced, via item drops, random map events, and various team configurations. As the fighting game genre continues to march forward with time will there be a portion of the gaming market left out of the fray? Lets take a look at the game that changed it all for the fighting game community in recent years and see what they did right to help ease the barrier for new players and reinvent the series.
Street Fighter 4's Approach to A New Playerbase
Capcom sat down and took a look at ways to get players uncomfortable but familiar with the genre interested in a fresh iteration of the street fighter franchise, they went in assuming most of their future fans interested in picking up a copy have played a 2d fighting game in the past, so they still knew who they were aiming at. They were wise to assume the skill of most new players didn't extend outside of throwing a few hadoukens and designed a new combat system with that skill set in mind.
Slowing It Down
Street fighter 4 slowed down the pace of combat considerably since its previous incarnation, this not only gives new players more time to react but it also gives them more time to input commands. In addition to the overall pace of combat, the delays in between special attacks and heavy attacks were greatly increased, giving players a more obvious opening for a counter attack.
Inputs and Commands
Inputs are one of the biggest hurdles for players new to the genre to overcome, more specifically the quarter forward circle input. This legendary input was what separated most of us from our childhood friends whenever playing a fighting game, its ubiquitous to the 2d fighting genre so what did SF4 do to remedy this for new players? By allowing a buffered input players could input their joystick movements and button presses before the active frames of the next available attack. This means that players can input special moves at a liberal pace and will still be performed successfully. While later on the frame inputs of certain combos become very strict, early play is accomplished with ease while still being able to pull off some pretty impressive combo's.
The Focus Attack
The focus attack was a new mechanic introduced in SF4, replacing the parry from 3rd strike. The focus attack is a quick an easy way to repost incoming attacks and its a universal tool available to every character. It allows the easy dispatching of incoming fireballs, or dealing with a pesky sweep kick, and best of all the input is easy to do, all it requires is pressing mid kick and mid punch at the same time. It has its limitations when dealing with quicker attacks and you can still be thrown, but it gives new players an advanced tool at their disposal that's fun and easy to execute.
Some fans of Street fighter 3rd strike enjoyed the introduction of a new cast of characters, and now many of those characters have made their way into SF4 through its many expansions, but in the beginning capcom put its best foot forward and didn't take any chances. Right in the intro screen our favorite characters Ryu and Ken are introduced along with other familiar faces that have aged with gaming culture and are recognizable to those who aren't even fans of the series.
So where do we go from here?
The issue with Street fighter 4 is their is still a bit of a gap between experienced players and players new to the genre, being familiar with a fighting game is almost a requirement for enjoying the game. Players who struggle to performe your basic hadouken should probably continue to steer clear of the genre, while games like super smash brothers have done a better job striving to make inputs accessible to new players, as input demands are going to be the biggest hurdle players new to the genre are going to face. 3d fighters met with success by simplifying inputs while at the same time adding in complicated strings and combo's, but this removed a lot of agency for new players who relied more on strategic button mashing over actual detailed character control, and the time it would take to memorize all the combo's can seem too daunting a task.
Looking Toward the Future
The fighting genre has deep roots, and anyone who's successfully going to purge those roots is going to need a recognizable cast first and foremost. While simplifying inputs seems to be a requirement, a good fighting game still needs unique combat options outside of special moves that offer easy and unique options to players of varying skill. In addition to all this their still needs to be an incentive for new players to go up against their friends who are a bit more experienced, people generally don't enjoy competing if they don't think they have a chance to win, and while this is sometimes approached with "rock, paper, scissors" like gameplay I think optional modes and play conditions are best suited for this task. The future is bright with games like towerfall, nidhogg, and samurai gunn breaking into the local gaming scene hopefully a skilled indie developer will approach the complicated and risky task of creating a more traditional fighting game, I would even be interesting seeing someone give it a shot on portable devices, until then that day comes, remember to block...