You Say You Want an EVOlution

21 07 2009

As yammered about in my Twitter, on Sunday I found myself enjoying a surprise — complete all-day, all-night streaming coverage of the finals of the Evo tourneys.

Evo is a yearly (?) gathering of the best fighting game players in the world, to see who’s the top in various games like Street Fighter IV, Soul Calibur 4, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Guilty Gear, etc. There’s an entire culture built around competitive fighters, coast rivalries, country rivalries, etc. It’s a fascinating wad of gamer culture and one I follow off and on, enough to know the key players and strategies and dramas.

Watching the tournaments highlights two things:

1. They’re just as exciting as watching competitive contact sports where you throw a ball around and punch people in the groin. With good color commentators explaining what’s going on, contextualizing the action, it can be an intense experience for the viewer at home and certainly the attendees watching live and in person.

2. Upper level play in these games requires the reflexes of a 13 year old on methamphetamines and severe obsessive compulsive disorder, since matches can be won or lost in the span of 4 frames of animation. The precision required to find your opening and pound in a punishing combo, to read your opponent’s moves, and to play the metagame of tourney-acceptable glitches and god-tier exploiting is craziness incarnate.

I love #1, but #2 makes me leery. This leaves me highly conflicted. I can enjoy watching these games, but “casual play,” the level I operate at, went out the window years ago. Fighting games are so niche that Evo and people who aspire to Evo level play are just about all that remains.

Nowadays, most people who play fighters are the hardcore crowd. It’s the old “play to win” mentality I’ve railed against before, because it encourages people to min-max the experience to a ridiculous degree. “Play for fun” is an era long dead unless you can get a few friends together locally and have everybody agree not to be a dick in the name of nailing wins. Online play… forget about it. I played a few dozen SF4 matches online before realizing how pointless that was. I fear the upcoming re-release of MvC2 will be exactly the same, only moreso, since there are only 3-5 characters worth a damn in that game which everybody always picks, always, and always uses the same tactics with, always. Egh.

Anyhoo.

I’m going to be rethinking some of a05 tonight. I wasn’t terribly excited about returning to it, since the next scenes are only vaguely planned out, and I wasn’t solid on the finish. The problem is how much I reveal about what’s really going on here… if I show too much about why this Arcology came crashing to earth, if I have a certain event happen, it may give people enough dots to connect easily and uncover every mystery the series has to offer. I’m thinking I need to dial that back. An entire city was destroyed, and we don’t know why, and that’s probably enough intrigue to keep us going without saying “Oh, it’s because *** was ********ing the E****** P****** using the ***** *****, like what happened with the ******* *****.”

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15 responses

21 07 2009
sptrashcan

I agree – play-to-win is fun to watch, but not to play against. It’s the same thing with physical sports, really, which is even more of a shame: if sports were fun for everyone, more people would be getting exercise. That striving to win produces great play is obvious, but the unspoken corollary that those who can’t win can’t have meaningful play is rarely given sufficient consideration. Too bad play-to-win is the ethos of our era, often with disastrous results. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the outliers of human athletic performance are dominated by 18-35 year old males, basically the human peak breeding age, and all contests between them are really fights over who gets to have sex… but that’d be reaching.
Tangentially, I wish DDR shipped with a co-op mode.

21 07 2009
pyromaniac_ks

The Play To Win culture is really far more dominant over in the States (the originator of the word “Loser” as an insult), but it’s been making headway over here as well.
Something I heard… many years ago, from some commentator guy on the radio, I think: “When four Brazilian kids have a football, they play keepie uppie. When four British kids have a football, they play 2v2.”

21 07 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

When four American kids have a football, they play Calvinball.
Well, they would if I had ultimate power over reality.

21 07 2009
shachihoko

Play for fun FTW
I think it’s possible to find play-for-fun competition in, say, convention video gaming rooms. At the very least, I had a freakin’ blast trading shots on Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and I wish it was coming out sooner than (according to IGN) 4th quarter 2009, or possible (GameStop) January 2010. @.@;
By contrast, I got my ass handed to me way too readily across the room on Fate/Unlimited Codes. I’m gonna stick with taking on the CPU in the PSP version, I think.
In any case, this remains why online competitive play – in any game, really, not just fighters – remains a minor point at best. If I can coordinate games with online friends, great. If not, the single-player game had better be good enough to justify the purchase.

21 07 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Re: Play for fun FTW
There are exceptions, of course. One reason I love Team Fortress 2 and Rock Band Quickplay so much is because it’s a lot more casual of a community. Pubbers just like to get out there and mix it up, and sometimes win. There are Evo-style clanners with min-maxed teams (soldier, medic, demo, maybe one scout, that’s basically it) but those guys are the minority, thank god.
Maybe it’s the coop factor coming into play, there. Even if it’s technically PVP, to some degree, there’s so much coop poured into the mix that your part is limited and you don’t feel pressured to fail or win by your own merits. There’s less ego on the line.

22 07 2009
Anonymous

Fighting games… not dead yet
Thanks to SF4, at least there’s a big influx of new fighting gamers.
Though there’s also a bad side to that, as shown on the Evo chat, where the bashing of every game that wasn’t SF4 (including SF HD Remix) was basically soul-crushing. Especially to someone who only cared about the 5 minutes of coverage they dedicated to the BlazBlue finals.
Still, I’ve known enough Capcom fanboys to learn that some of them will eventually realize that Capcom’s not the best fighting game developer.
Though many still will, even if Capcom goes another 10 years without making a fighting game.
Also, I’m a huge fighting game nut, and I know I can’t ever have the kind of reflexes it takes to play competitively. But it’s still fun. Wish I had XBL and could play some BB online.
-NeoVid

22 07 2009
schadrach

In reference to your last paragraph, I think I’ve got an increasingly good idea about *what* happened, but I’m largely mystified as to *why*. Someone, somewhere had to have seen some kind of benefit from the events that create the scenario in the story, but I have no idea who, why, or how it was supposed to benefit them. That the Pandora Event (which at this point I almost assume is a side-effect or malfunction of the shift drives [that was more or less my second insane theory in the first a03 thread anyways] — though possibly intended, but again I see no good reason why it would be yet) has a “why” that is a big mystery, but once you explain yoinking a mythical dreamworld full of Faeries onto Earth, coming up with excuses for shooting down or crashing a city becomes far less of an issue, there’d just need to be a good reason why knowledge of such wouldn’t be kept publically available — possibly a cover up, leading to a reason for mind-controlling inconvenient people who know too much to death (possible that Orbital culture is completely two-faced, showing an outer facade of only the good side, while anything…unpleasant gets handled and kept quiet, on penalty of “assisted” suicide?)
OK, done being insane for a bit, back to counting the rooms in the noneuclidean fortress that haunts my dreams…

22 07 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Re: Fighting games… not dead yet
BlazBlue looks AWESOME. …and also utterly, totally, alienatingly difficult to play. I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I was getting; Guilty Gear esque fighters are definitely crafted for niche audiences, even if the artwork’s beautiful.

22 07 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I spent tonight brainstorming with Jen and reworking the plot quite a bit. A lot of what I ***’d out there doesn’t apply anymore, so be careful what you assume — but I’ll neither confirm nor deny that you’re partially on the right track for the wrong reasons.

22 07 2009
omahdon

I have the same mixed feelings about fighting games myself – on the one hand, I love how beautifully animated some fights can be, bordering on old-skool HK chop-socky fight choreography. On the other hand, I can’t play for crap and most games seem to require a whole lot of foundation from previous games in the series to even CONSIDER touching the controller. This was brutally highlighted when, on a whim, I decided to purchase BlazBlue (so. pretty.) giggled with delight at the bright colourfulness and awesomeness of it all, and then proceeded to BRUTALLY lose the first match to the AI who seemed to be idling most of the time while I flailed nonsensically at the controls. I kinda miss the days of having only one d-pad and two buttons to worry about.

22 07 2009
Anonymous

Re: Fighting games… not dead yet
I don’t know where you got the impression that Arc Systems’ games are hard… I found GG to be much easier to get good at than Street Fighter or KoF, and I’ve been playing those for 15 years. Though you’re partly right… BlazBlue is harder than GG, but most of the characters in both are within the skill level of incompetents like us to do well with.
Also, both have story modes that can last up to 20 hours, and BB comes with an instructional DVD. The best tutorial on the DVD was for Arakune, who’s also one of the best characters in the game, and using only a fraction of what I learned from that, I can easily stand up to the best Jin/Noel spammers I’ve faced.
Also, I notice you have a tendency to give up on great games before you try due to lack of confidence in your own abilities. Stop that! I know I’m never going to be really good at any game, so if I want to get better, I copy techniques from better people, and I practice. Just start off with someone who’s stupidly powerful and also easy, like Testament or V-13.
Plus, BB’s worth playing for this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdZP4PjAT1Q
-NeoVid

22 07 2009
Anonymous

Let’s see…
At least BB has less buttons than Street Fighter.
Which character did you use? Did you start off with one of the insanely hard to use ones, like Carl or Rachel, or one of the beginner characters like Noel or Jin? How long did you spend in training mode before you tried actually fighting? Were you using the Easy Specials shortcut, since you’re just learning? Did you lower the difficulty?
Because I’m moderately skilled at fighting games and I had to do all those when I was starting out. Especially since no character in BB plays anything like any other fighting game character ever (one of the best things about the game).
And I’ve learned I can always go to http://www.dustloop.com/forums/ if I really stall out.
-NeoVid

22 07 2009
sptrashcan

Re: Let’s see…
The fundamental disconnect, here, is that you feel that games are worth investing work into now so you can have fun later, while I want to have fun now. And I can tell you from experience that there are some very deep games, for which investment of time and thought pays considerable dividends, that are also fun to play right away. There’s room in the world for games that present a formidable wall of complexity from the start, but I consider a gentle learning curve to be a mark of superior all-around design.

22 07 2009
sptrashcan

Re: Let’s see…
And in the spirit of the staircase, I’d like to add that the superiority of gentle learning curves applies to much more than games. Superior design looks beyond mere capabilities, to the total experience from initial contact to full mastery. And it ain’t easy.

22 07 2009
Anonymous

OK, I see
To get that sort of thing in BB, you’d have to use Noel or Jin with Easy Specials.
And I play a lot of fighters and RPGs, so most of the time I have to know a lot about a game before I can get much out of it. Different preferences.
-NeoVid

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