Saturday, August 16, 2008

Next-gen Fighters and the Flow of Combat pt. 4

Just a few points to wrap things up.

Simultaneous multiplayer. The core Smash design has the flexibility to support up to four players simultaneously. All of the mechanics, dynamics, and interplay possibilities are increased with each additional player. Some of the possible combinations for matches are team play (2v2), 3 for all (1v1v1), 4 for all (1v1v1v1), and even lopsided combinations like (2v1v1) and (3v1). By turning on team attack (friendly fire) in a 2v2 teams match, teammates must carefully coordinate their attacks as to avoid hitting each other. Because teammates can hit each other, players can also save each other from situations with attacks. If a Jigglypuff teammate is sleeping after using a rest attack, a teammate can step in and wake her with with a light, nonlethal "love tap." The highest levels of team play in Smash are the best the core design has to offer.





I had to 2v1 pretty hard at the end.


Stock. Another feature that is fairly unique to Smash is stock; the number of lives a player has in a single match. This feature seemds to be directly inspirited from Super Mario Brothers. Unlike the standard rounds in traditional fighting games, after a player loses a stock, the match carries on. This means the level state, the other player's damage, and any other elements on the stage continues to influence the match. By carrying over, these elements create momentum and flow for the match that gives Smash battles an expanded design compared to the start-stop-reset flow of traditional fighters.

The Spirit of the Game

Over the past week, I've been following the Olympic games closely. In preparation for watching the Taekwondo events, I looked up some Olympic qualifying matches. What I saw shocked and disappointed me. My perception of many games and sports often changes upon witnessing tournament level play or world class competition. For these players, winning is the absolute goal and their strategies and attitudes have been refined to help them reach that goal. In other words, they're playing to win. Operating under this banner can create "boring" matches where the same efficient strategy is used throughout a match. Excessively fouling at the end of a basketball game is playing to win. And what I saw in the Taekwondo matches is hardly what I consider an interesting fight.

Perhaps I simply don't understand the sport of Taekwondo well enough. But my dissappointement in the tournament level matches makes me think about the limitations of physical, real world sports and conversely the liberating power of game design. Video games can be designed so that "playing to win," "playing for fun," and even "playing most entertainingly" are one. Preserving and upholding the spirit of a game in high level competitive play is all about the details in the design.

Super Smash Brothers Melee and Brawl are far from perfect. Each have their problems, and each have advancements in the core Smash design that the other could really benefit from. Super Smash Brothers is my favorite game of all time not just becaues of it's next-gen design and Nintendo spirit, but also because of the people I've met through the game and the journey it took me on. Much of the designer that I am today I owe to this game, and this is why I've decided to fix it.

The ultimate repair project that B.E.S is currently working on is a revision of Brawl entitled Super Smash Brothers Tournament Perfect. As the name implies, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Though a perfectly balanced fighter is an unreachable dream for most designers, getting as close as possible is always the goal. I'll have more details on this project in the near future.

The Next Level

All of this effort, for a game that was next-gen a generation ago. This article series is slightly misleading. Every time I described Smash as having "next-gen" design elements, I was actually referring to last-gen design or the design trends from the GameCube era. The trends, breakthroughs, and technologies that make up the generation of design for the Wii-Xbox360-PS3 generation go beyond the elements detailed in this series.

If you want a glimpse into the future of fighting game design, then you might as well play it for yourself. The design of Wii Sports Boxing is the future.


And I'll close with a quote from a Critical-Correspondence I conducted a few months ago.

"Wii Boxing is a surprisingly deep fighter. And on top of that fact, it's perfectly balanced. Just like other fighting games, the negotiation of space and attacks between (at least) two players is key. In Wii Boxing, players have 3D analog control over their avatar's bodies. In other words, you can lean all the way to the left, all the way to the right, and every degree in between. You can also lean forward and backwards with analog controls. Positioning ones gloves to line up attacks is also analog on the vertical and horizontal axises. Players have at least 2 different speeds for executing jabs and special hook attacks. The game is fast paced, and it has a clean design by sticking strictly to the design principle "form fits function." It's balanced, it has a high degree of intuitive variability, and it does it all without using a single button.

This in itself is quite notable. The Wii Sports games are not only very deep, but they stay true to solid design principles. If you can find a fighter that's as balanced, as analog (variable inputs), has a character creator, as intuitive, and as clean as Wii Sports Boxing, I'd love to hear it. Otherwise, you must admit that, when you compare the mechanics and the design, Wii Sports Boxing is quite deep.

3 comments:

Crono174 said...

Yeah... point sparring in Tae Kwon Do is kind of ridiculous. Those guys are way more concerned about points than actually sparring. In real sparring matches you'd actually see people using combinations, physical strategies, and mental strategies. Point sparring is setting yourself only in the "I have to hit him once without getting hit myself" mentality. Though I've seen a little of this in some fighting games, the smash bros. series has done a good job of making it more about different strategies and creating combos, even if they aren't true (unbreakable) combinations.

Daniel Primed said...

I haven't ben able to read all of the articles in this series yet but so far it's been an excellent dissection of the genre. On reading, it's surprising to learn of how each of the smaller mechanics play a part in ironing out the core playing style. Great read.

KirbyKid said...

@ crono174

It's good to get some perspective from a real Tae Kwon Do black belt.

@ daniel primed

Thanks. Yeah, it's every small detail that makes a big difference in a super competitive multiplayer genre like fighting games.

Let me know what you think when you finish the series.