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Thursday, 11 July 2013

Street Fighter & the Action genre: Are we alienating newer players

A few years ago I tried my hand at Street Fighter 4 on my Xbox 360. I just loved the game. The art style, the fighting mechanics, the ultra combos, they were just awesome when they came together on the screen. So many different fighters and so many different styles, the game offered a lot to the seasoned campaigner and I just loved it for that. And gamers flocked to it on their ps3 and PCs.

Mastering the combos and knowing when to use them in which situation were the two main factors in determining who became a champion and who didn’t. My friends and me spent hours upon hours on our ego trips as to determine that who was the best of the lot. I guess that’s what makes these fighting games so special. The adrenaline rush that goes through your veins when you execute a difficult combo and see your opponent fly across the screen. The absolute pleasure of looking at your friend grimacing in that virtual pain. I guess there is no greater rush in gaming that letting your friends to know, who is the boss, specially in an arena.

As I said, I just loved the game. But I am a seasoned gamer, someone used to the world of sticks and buttons & the game is right up my ally someone who has generally been playing fighting games for a long time. Having said so, the complexity of the combos is sometimes too much for someone who is new to this genre to pick it up and start having fun. This may only be my personal experience but I hardly know anyone who loved and played SF4 a lot but who has not played SF3 or SF2 a lot. These games demand that there is a level of awareness and comfort with the controls and combos.

It gets even tougher when that new player tries to get online. He just gets his ass handed down to him multiple times by seasoned fighters and his morale beaten down to dust. Very few can muster up the courage to keep going on in the face of complete annihilation to learn the ropes. With games these days trying to increase their reach and trying to increase the total gameplay time in a bid to increase incremental revenue, this is bad news for fighting games.

This was not quite the experience when I tried the same game, Street Fighter 4 on my iphone. I have to admit that it was much easier for a new player to pick up the game on an iphone and have fun with it. The number of hours I enjoyed playing the game on Bluetooth in my office with people who don’t actually call themselves gamers is a testimonial to that fact. What really changes was the ease with which the game allowed the players to perform special moves. Yes there was the traditional control system but the iphone version of the game also introduced a special button, a different control selection, just tapping which (and using the directional virtual pad) the player would be able to perform the special moves. And the not so gamer guys loved it. I loved it too.
It got me thinking that how come these guys who have never played games before, let alone SF, love this game so much. The answer was simple. They got the thrill of executing those combos that made these games so special, easily. They didn’t have to remember complex controls, spend hours trying to master them. They just needed to press a button and input a direction, and lo and behold, spectacle on the screen. Just by pressing a button, they would feel all mighty and powerful. Just by pushing a button, they could do what they have so fondly watched others to do but knew was too tough for them to try. Can something similar be done for similar games on consoles? How hard would it be to lower the entry barrier for newer players so that they can equally enjoy the game.

I agree that enjoyment for these games is not just a factor of on screen action and moves. I know that you must be thinking that removing complexity of controls would take away the challenge factor in these games. But it doesn’t have to be so. For example, in a game like SF, a new control mode can be implemented selecting which the player would be able to use those easier controls. But that would come with a caveat. If the player would use such controls, all the attacks done by him would have 50% of damage as compared to done normally. This would give them a reason to try to master the original controls so as to have the increased damage, hence bringing the balance in the game in favor of those who are willing to put in the long hours of practice.

The same can be implemented in online play as well. The system should be able to track down the experience level of the player depending on the number of games played in previous games of the same franchise. Depending on their experience level, they would be paired with players with the same experience (assuming that same experience level somehow equates to the same skill) which would allow for more balanced competition. This would shield the newer players from highly experienced players. The players can obviously change this setting and opt to play at a higher level if they find the competition too easy.

I know that this is not the optimal solution. But if we are to breakout to become an entertainment medium which is to be enjoyed by the masses and not only the classes, we need to figure out a way to make sure that the games that we develop are more forgiving to newer players. This doesn’t mean reducing the difficulty level of the games, as it would go on to piss off the hardcore audience. What it requires is that the newer players are eased into the gameplay experience and is not subjected to a host of information that may be too much to handle too soon. Developing games that give challenge to the hardcore players as well as take care of the newer ones is just one step in the right direction.

Siddharth has been playing games since forever and loves it so much so he decided to make a profession out of it. After completing his MBA, he decided to join EA to learn the ropes of the industry. A Game Producer and Game Designer by profession, while not playing games, he loves to read about them, watch movies and spend quality time with his family. His passion for writing led to the creation of this blog.

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