By now, you’ve seen the numerous clips of the AT&T Annihilator Cup of the professional FPS players/streamers struggling to play some Street Fighter V; a game regarded as one of the easiest in the series. Players who are dominant in their respective games came to a fighting game deemed easy by those who regularly play fighting games…and they were (mostly) terrible by the standards of people who know how to play the game. What’s amazing is that if you dig through all the clips of Noko shouting about the game, you also get to see some genuinely good moments: Jericho learning Karin combos or Emisu playing E. Honda and doing somewhat well…despite only mashing punch.
So, of course, this once again brings up that age old discussion of difficulty in fighting games. This was practically a case study. There was no need to discuss how much they play video games and at what skill level. They play them professionally. That’s why they were there. They were not casual gamers. And yet, the second they were told to play Street Fighter V, most of them were baffled. All they knew in their lanes of gaming didn’t apply here. There was no real tutorial to teach them the game. Sure, you could count the in game mechanics tutorial, but clearly that didn’t help. Unfortunately, I think fighting games are just destined to be difficult or at least perceived as such for a long time.
Guilty Gear Xrd is lauded as having one of the best fighting game tutorials of all time, and to those who have even a basic knowledge of fighting games it absolutely does. However, even that tutorial isn’t perfect. At least, not perfect at drawing people more in. During one of Noko’s rants, he actually makes an interesting point. In shooting games, you just have to point and shoot and you get most of the game. Will you suddenly be a pro? No. But just learning how to shoot your gun has taught you so much of the game. By the time you’ve learned how to shoot, move, and use your grenades, most fighting games don’t even finish teaching you your basic movement options. But then after movement, you have to learn normal attacks, special attacks, cancels, different move properties, guarding, throwing, and so on. To those with no fighting game background, that can be a lot.
Even if you factor in games that have a lot of mechanics to learn like RPGs or action games, they’re usually designed in such a way that you learn these things in a more controlled environment. Rarely will those sorts of games give you the tools you need then throw you to the wolves. Some teach through text boxes while others teach by examples. Fighting games don’t quite have that luxury. The modern fighting game doesn’t have the single player content that can really teach a player the ropes. Well, not good content anyway. Sure, you have arcade mode and sometimes survival, but that’s usually it. That’s really a shame because, personally, I think that’s where the answers lie.
Fighting games have already solved this problem, but for some reason developers are content with shelving this sort of single player content. I believe the solution was right there in Street Fighter Alpha 3: World Tour mode. In that mode, you picked your character, you got experience for your fighting styles and as the games progressed the difficulty would ramp up. It gave players the ability to test mechanics, learn the buttons, and play around in a low stress environment that would become challenging over time. Why World Tour mode was so good was because it introduced a variety of situations and not just a line of eight jobbers and a boss. There was also a sense of progression as you not only got better but made your character stronger. It was rewarding. It incentivizes players to get better. Modes like this would be amazing for single player content and much better than a random mission mode with inputs that just look like hieroglyphics. Before you say it, yes. I’m well aware of Weapon Master mode. Yes, it was great, but it was a little…wackier than the World Tour. Still amazing, but not quite what I’m talking about.
Now, am I saying that a World Tour mode would have taken someone like Noko from scrub to pro in an instant? Of course not. There are still things about fighting games that you’re going to have to keep practicing to even get a grasp on: meaty attacks, frames, instant blocks, recovery frames, push blocks, air tech, ground tech, rolling, short hops, super jumps, and so on. So many mechanics are baked into even the simplest fighting games. Then there’s the inputs, the frame data, what the frame data means, match ups, and so much more. However, getting a player into the door as easily and painlessly as possible is the best chance a fighting game has to get a player base to grow. Give players a means to just jump in, press buttons, and experiment beyond training mode.
New players shouldn’t even think about training mode until they have a basic understanding of the game they’re playing. It isn’t as helpful as some may think to people who’re brand new to fighting games. Telling a newbie to just hop in the lab is reductive. Games are best learned by doing in situations that are controlled. So, bring back the World Tours and the Weapon Master modes. That’ll go a farther way to breaking the barriers of a game than simply making the game easier. That may work for a while, but an easy game for a beginner is an even easier game for an intermediate player. I think single player content is the key, and I hope developers think about that. Or else more meltdowns like Noko’s are on the horizon.