The Keits Philosophy To Fighting Game Balance

If you have not watched Fight On: The Killer Instinct Story, I highly recommended if you have even a passing interest in Killer Instinct. It talks heavily about the scene, the game’s development, the many challenges the game’s rise to fame, and more. I enjoyed it. But, one thing that was really interesting was the bit about Jago and how they chose to adjust him. In the section of the documentary about balance, Adam “Keits” Heart (Lead Combat Designer for Killer Instinct) talked a bit about the balancing decisions around Jago’s design and why the team didn’t listen to community feedback about what they thought was wrong. It gave some great perspective to the developer side of balancing and how they appeal to their audience’s concern properly.

Except from the Fight On: Killer Instinct Story

It got me considering how we as players view fighting games versus how the developers view them. Which viewpoint was the right one is up for debate. As players, we of course know the game the more we play it, but do we think in symptoms or causes? Do we look for changes in characters to appease our immediate needs or something that’ll fix a character in the long run? Furthermore, do developers take ideas from community feedback, or do they do as Keits says and just does what they think is best? I’m willing to believe that a very small percentage of the reasons for change derives from community feedback, given that a lot of it usually is surface level stuff unless you’re talking to pro players or enthusiasts.

The Abigail Problem

I vividly remember season 3 of Street Fighter 5 and the Abigail situation. Other characters got adjustments, but I remember him because I play him. The complaints were nearly the same. “He does too much damage.” “You get grabbed once, and you die.” “Why did they buff this character?” Then Capcom came and made some tweaks, but one change almost completely fixed him: his crouching light kick was no longer special cancellable. I remember reading that and thinking that was meaningless, until I tried it. My damage was a lot harder to accumulate since his light punches didn’t net as much reward. I hadn’t even realized how much I relied on that button until it didn’t work the same way. Capcom fixed the issue, for the most part.

Moreover, had they listened solely to the community, then all that would have happened was some damage nerfs and maybe some grab range nerfs (which still happened). Some people were just as confused as me or unhappy that Capcom didn’t do more. Then the game came together and people saw that they’d done enough to make Abigail manageable and the complaints about him lessened. As I recall, Cammy became the new menace around that time, so it goes to show that balance can be hard sometimes. You put down one character and another seems to rise. Or so it seemed, but currently in SFV there doesn’t seem to be one dominant character. Good for Capcom.

Online vs Offline

Something else to think about is the current day situation with the global pandemic. COVID-19 has effectively shut down in-person tournaments in the foreseeable future and as far as tiers and the like, we only have online tournaments. That isn’t great data from the online game and the offline game are so vastly different. When you can control the conditions such as input lag and remove the internet lag altogether, you get a much different game with a much different balance. So, given that we’ve mostly had online tournaments to work with, taking player feedback can be difficult to do. So then, do we trust the developers to make a balanced game and not to break it?

Street Fighter V’s poorly implemented netcode in action

The Future

A lot of the current fighting games still have upcoming content and balance changes on the horizon, leaving a lot of opportunities for them to evolve. At this point, I think I can safely say that Capcom won’t completely wreck SFV’s balance. They’ve done a fairly good job and I think the game is the best it’s been since launch. As for DBFZ, I expect the next DLC characters to be broken and in need of adjustments.

Despite what we may feel or think about the changes developers make, they aren’t (that) dumb. They typically have a plan for what they want for the game in terms of balance. Some characters are really good on purpose and others areā€¦ not as good on purpose. Still, this isn’t to discourage feedback or call it pointless. No, I think they need to hear it still. However, I think that we should be thinking more in terms of causes and not symptoms. Keits had that spot on, and the results reflected that. By the way, watch that documentary. I think I’ve said that already, but i’ll say it again. Watch it. Hopefully, you learn something like we did.

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