Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fighting Game Command Study

Recently, as I've been working on Battle High 2 A+, which now has a playable, pre-alpha:



I've been wondering about several aspects of fighting game design in general more closely.  One is special move commands.  I think one of the bigger barriers in attracting new players is that to do anything "cool" is seemingly complicated.  When the first question you get from a new player is "How do I block?", it's usually followed by, "How do I shoot a fireball?"  Both question can be difficult to explain.
This sort of made me wonder, why is fighting game input so complicated?  I know it started back in the arcade days as a sort of "hidden" feature, something that while messing around players would discover, to feel proud as they are asked, "Woah, how'd you do that?!" but now, hidden moves are almost nonexistent due to the amount of resources out there to learn about a game.

Less Buttons, Less Problems...maybe...

So I think there are several advantages to button sequences.  One is that you can cut down the numbers of buttons needed for player to learn.  This is also a reason why many games use multiple button presses, for example, pressing light punch and light kick to throw as opposed to having a separate throw button -- though Battle High now does both.  A part of me agrees with this.  I think Street Fighter has really set the standard that anymore than 6 buttons is probably too many -- unless you have a 7th for say taunting. At the same time, new players can finding this troublesome, especially when you are working in a genre where players use a variety of hardware -- controllers, joystick, even keyboard on rare occasions.  You can play with the dreaded raptor claw as you struggle to press three buttons at the same time.  The commonly grunted solution is "Get a stick," but not everyone really wants to do that or can afford it.
Joysticks are cool, but they do take getting used to and are sometimes expensive.  Some people just want to have fun with what their given.

Meta Game

I think a more interesting reason for inputs and a variety of them is the meta game it creates.  This particularly refers to characters that have charge attacks:  Guile, Balrog, M. Bison, Blanka, Vega, etc.  When you see these characters crotch, for example, you have to guess, "What are they going to do next?"  Are they going to throw a projectile or rush in?  Are they preparing for me to jump in?"  At the same time, a player has to play in a way that can prevent them from charging properly and taking that advantage away.  I mention charging specifically because I was, and still am to be honest, contemplating on removing charge attacks from Battle High 2 A+.  My main reason was that, in an effort to simplify things, to eliminate another type of input.

This is Guile.  He's crouching.  What's he going to do next?  Flash Kick?  Sonic Boom!  Crouching Heavy Punch?!  You just don't know!  META GAME!

In-Game Flow

This reason is a bit more "colorful" but in a way the motion of one's hand when doing a fighting game input sometimes very closely relates the the movement that a character is doing on screen.  This can, in turn, help make a better connection between the player and the character.  In Street Fighter, for example , a Quarter-Circle Forward (QCF) and punch, will make Ryu project a fireball or Hadoken.  In his animation he sort of leans down a bit, creating the energy, and then shifts his weight forward to shoot a fireball across the screen.
In regards to charging, a character is usually walking away similar to a slingshot being pulled back and then sudden forward is pressed with an attack projecting the character (or an actual projectile) towards the opponent.  When the input correlates well to the resulting character movement, I think this demonstrates good design.
Maybe it's just me, but I see a slight correlation between the input and the resulting movement.  Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Simple and Easy Operation

One solution I've seen to simplify fighting game input are Simple operation modes in which more complex inputs, QCF + P, are replaced with simpler inputs such as simple F (forward) + P.  Sometimes entire combos can even be performed with just the push of a button.  These seem great on the surface, but they, in turn, reduce the number of actual attacks available.  For example, if Ryu's projectile was simplified to simply F+P, he'd lose some of his more special attacks that already use this command such as his 2-hit overhead.  Also, they remove a lot of the skill required to play the game and a part of me feels that if you are going to do a simple operation mode, just make that the norm.

The EO stands for "Easy Operation".  I think this was done more for the GameCube controller than anything though.

Audience

At the end of the day, I think it really comes down to audience.  If the audience of the game being made will mostly consist of fans of the genre, then sticking to what is currently working is probably best; however, if you are trying to attract a broader, more casual audience, a few things definitely need to be done.  First, you have to teach.  You have to have a mode -- that is just "training" mode -- to teach the different attacks and how to do them.  Teach how to roll one's thumb from down to forward and time the press -- if they are using a gamepad.  Teach how you can buffer inputs for a few frames to link combos more easily.  Just teach the player.  Problem is, a lot of time, players usually won't take the time to learn, jump right into the game on max difficulty, and then never play the game out of sheer frustration.
Maybe it's just me, but I don't think the EVO audience would mind games with more complex inputs, but the Candy Crush generation...well they probably wouldn't never play a fighting game anyway...

My Plan (for now) 

Right now, for Battle High 2 A+, I really want to attract a more casual audience to this fighting game and the genre in general.  I want to teach the more important aspects of fighting game such as defensive, offense, timing, studying your opponent, and remove some as many barriers as possible -- difficult inputs being one of them.  To do this, I'm going to first probably include a mode that teaches basic game mechanics.  Make it a mode that doesn't just say "THIS IS HOW YOU BLOCK" and have the player watch a video, but instead explain how to block and then make a challenge such as "block five attacks"  This isn't original by any means, but I feel much more useful.  Then, I'm leaning towards sacrificing the concept of In-Game Flow described earlier and instead just have all attacks be QCF or QCB, or a combination of those.  Probably no charging and no z-motions (dragon punches / Shoryuken).  Battle High's cast doesn't have TONS of moves, so limiting it to those inputs makes thinks a little easier.  It does require more skill than just pressing forward or back and an attack, but I think this middle ground will ultimately feel more rewarding.

Anyway, that's my quick analysis of fighting game input and my approach to them.  I'll probably be posting more Battle High 2 news in the coming weeks.

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