Competitive Fighters Will Never Entice the Casualcore
I suppose a dramatic title like that deserves some sort of preface
So I’ve been bored recently and decided to try out the the Rising Thunder Alpha (something that you should all check out if you haven’t already), and I’ve definitely enjoyed it for what it is. The game has a design philosophy that is looking to draw more novice players into fighting games, by removing the need for commands when performing special moves (instead mapping them to button inputs), as well as affording more lenient combo input windows than something like Street Fighter. What this meant in my case, was that I could quickly get to grips with how a character functioned, learn some bread and butter combos, and get into some matches in under an hour. This is great, because it always feels nice to be able to jump into a game with such little time invested in technical mastery. So I go with Chel, being a shoto archetype (think Ryu and Ken in SF), I felt she would be the most comfortable character for me to work with off the bat and at least possibly reach a lower intermediate level of play very quickly. I get matched up against some Carbon rank players (the very bottom rank in the matchmaking system), and it’s pretty free, and I won’t lie about not getting some sadistic pleasure in doing basic things to score easy victories. I would feel bad for these players, but I could have sworn some of them didn’t even know how to block.
Now suddenly I’m being matched up against a Gold ranked player while still in the very lowest rank, and while I managed to somehow take a round off them, I get very comprehensively outplayed, and as I watched Chel get sent hurtling back and forth across the screen, I thought to myself, “damn, there’s some cool stuff you can do in this game”.
And you know, when you think about it, that’s the real thing that stops a lot of players from actually getting into fighting games, especially on a competitive level. It’s not really about technical barriers at all (even if that doesn’t exactly help the situation), the barrier is that these games will always take knowledge and thought, and it’s this depth of interaction and intelligence in decision making that will forever drive away the casualcore audience. I keep using this word casualcore, now I should probably explain what I mean by it.
I grew up in the 90s, with my first consoles being 8 and 16 bit, along with the arcade cabinets. The first thing that’s always stated as the difference between these classic games and modern games is that the older ones didn’t fuck around, they were hard. Difficulty was a standard of design in old games, with arcade cabinets that was an obvious design decision intending to milk you dry of quarters, but what about console games? Well cartridges didn’t have much memory back then, so to get the most out of the limited data available, challenge was ramped up to keep the player occupied for a long enough time to justify the high price tag. There were also systems such as high scores and time rankings, that really emphasized mastery of the game. Sure you can beat the game, but how well can you beat it? The point was, that era of gaming was defined by games themselves being challenges. Every moment of gameplay was treacherous, and this conditioned a generation of players who would go into a game expecting to see plenty of death and game over screens before finally managing to get their head around the mechanics. When I was a kid, I can rarely remember the word hardcore being used for gamers, and when it was, it was for absolute fanatics and people who’d reached unrivaled levels of mastery. It was an appropriately used term, I guess, and one that didn’t used to make me want to step in front of a train every time I saw it used.
Cue the 3D era, and things started to change. With larger worlds now possible, games became increasingly more forgiving in terms of threat level. Developers started to employ more environmental roadblocks and puzzles, and while games still took a similar amount of time to complete on a first playthrough, the games were inherently less threatening. You drop down a chasm? Lose a small bit of life, or sometimes not at all! Enemies? Placeholder outside of bosses, and even those are just for dramatic effect rather than any real challenge. Honestly, there’s no better example for the trend of games and their generational audience than Zelda. Do you remember dying in 3D Zelda? Of course not, not outside of a speedrun anyway. The enemies are a joke, the games instead rely on environmental puzzles to provide challenge.
Zelda puzzle in the 2000s: Push a block to open a door
Old style Zelda puzzle: Get to a block and push it in a room with an invincible enemy that moves in a set pattern, and another enemy that comes towards you to attack.
What skill does Zelda puzzle number 1 emphasize? Nothing except for “oh this is a Zelda game so I know I have to push a block, gee aren’t I smart?”
What skills does puzzle 2 emphasize? Timing and spacing, as well as that esoteric Zelda knowledge gained through trial and error experimentation.
The philosophy of games changed in one very marked way, from requiring you to be good (ie smart and skilled) to giving you the illusion that you are good. The modern Zelda fanbase is my favorite to bash shamelessly (also ever notice that a lot of scrubs who will never be good at Smash main Link?), the reason being that a good deal of players in said fanbase are a shining example of the generation of players who call themselves obtuse shit like “true gamers”, and “hardcore”. They grew up on games that pulled the wool over their eyes, made them feel smart, feel accomplished. You put 100 hours into this game! You are a GAMER! Then they pick up Street Fighter for the first time, and go “wow this game is just cheap fireball spam, fuck this!” after being smothered by basic fireball pressure. Old games were hard enough to where you EXPECTED every new game to be a steep learning curve and new challenge. This is why that era was the golden age of fighting games, because when they first picked up the game and got bodied, it was to be expected. Just another game, just another thing to learn to beat. You know the sort of people who are turned off of fighting games because of difficulty? They also existed in the old days too, they’d try out videogames for the first time, get wrecked, call it stupid, and never play again. The difficulty and depth of fighting games was never at odds with the zeitgeist, so they prospered.
Inflation adjusted gross: over $3bn! Good times huh Capcom? Source
Now after that long winded rant, I’m going to rewind back to where we began, the fact that reducing the technical demand to even the most basic levels will not have any marked effect on the popularity of fighting games. Fighting games are, in my opinion, are the most nuanced and deep competitive videogames out there. They are inherently difficult. They test a plethora of skills and rely on a constant level of razor sharp focus to be played at the highest level. Making the inputs easier will mean far fewer execution errors, sure, but the games themselves will ALWAYS be hard. If inputs were the excuse before, it will be something new next. You don’t go from having your hand held in every game you’ve ever played to being crossed up and zoned out, not for most anyway. Fighting games will always appeal to a certain type of person, and while that type of person and the word gamer were once one and the same, that era has passed. I could be entirely wrong, and it could be that Seth Killian and other developers are merely trying to reap the undeniable benefits to fighting games a softened executional difficulty provides. Perhaps Rising Thunder is considered too simple by some because of its removal of so many normal buttons to replace with specials, but the merit behind the philosophy is undeniable in that a lower technical barrier to entry allows for a smoother, more enjoyable transition into high level cerebral play. Also you know what? My initial impressions of the game were positive, and I’m fairly confident the final product will be a deep and rewarding experience. Unfortunately, and I hope this is just a wrong impression I have, I feel that the demographic many of these developers are attempting to expand to (with high expectations I’m sure), are the casualcore, and no matter what you do, these games will never ever appeal to them the way we want, because they are not the sort of person receptive to such an experience.
This is the gaming generation equivalent of a lazy desk jockey looking for 3 week beach body shortcuts. This is the generation that considers themselves master chefs for heating up canned ravioli, then gets insulted when you almost throw up trying one of their horrific attempts at actual cooking. This is the generation whose gaming was nothing more than an extension of power fantasies, experiences designed to make them feel good about themselves without them actually having to do anything of note. This may come off as a lot more vitriolic than it should, but I don’t actually judge them negatively. People are entitled to enjoy their own brand of entertainment, and hey now games cater to a broader audience. This is cool, but fighting games still carry the torch for a different generation, and a different type of player. Fighting games don’t appeal to that crowd, and never will. Streamlining design is always the ultimate pursuit, but if you guys think it will ever draw in this huge new crowd, forget about it. There are players with the fighting game mentality in the newer generations, and trust me, even though I do agree that hugely artificial technical barriers (I’m looking at you 1 frame bread and butters and L-Cancelling) don’t need to be around, those were never the barriers keeping these players from getting into these games. I know how virulently the FGC dislikes Smash, but hey, they can’t ignore Melee’s legacy. It’s the most popular Smash game of all, and it’s also the most torturous in terms of technical skill required, so it’s certainly not tech that provides the main barrier.
Fighting games are the ultimate test of skill and wits in gaming, and the casualcore will NEVER embrace them. That’s okay though, I think they’re doing just fine, and ultimately the direction of streamlined mechanical design is only a good thing. Just don’t expect the fanbase to explode because of it, because those guys are never jumping ship.
Posted on August 30, 2015, in General Gaming, Opinions and tagged Capcom, casual, competitive, competitive gaming, competitive smash, FGC, fighting games, gaming, melee, nintendo, rising thunder, smash, Street Fighter. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.