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Sunday, October 28, 2012

How Can Fighting Games Evolve?

As we inch ever closer to a new generation of consoles, games, and hardware, I’d reckon one of the big questions being asked by developers is: “how do we make our games better?” This question becomes even more important when applied to fighting game franchises considering the fact that, compared to most other game genres, the fighting game formula is pretty simplistic. So how do you improve on something that seemingly has no place left to go?

 Now, to be clear, I don’t equate “simplistic” with “boring.” Some of my fondest gaming memories include time spent with games from the Tekken, Soul Caliber, and Dead Or Alive series amongst others. As a die-hard martial arts fan, I’ve naturally gravitated towards the fighting game genre ever since I was a kid and, as I’ve gotten older, it has been nice to see some of my favorite fighting game series’ grow with me. 

Like many other avid fighting game fans, I’ve picked out my favorite characters, spent hours mastering complex combos and strategies, toiled away as I worked towards defeating various bosses and in-game challenges, and even gotten pretty absorbed into the lore and backstory that enshrouds the characters and plot of each series. However I’ve come to notice a few trends that seem to carry over from game to game and I can’t help but worry that before long the fighting game genre will fall into a rut of monotony out of which it will never be able to escape from.

If you take any given fighting game series and examine how it changes from game to game you will no doubt see what I’m talking about. A few new characters may get added, existing characters will have their movesets tweaked a bit, the graphics will look a bit prettier, and of course there will be a whole new story to explain why all these characters are beating the bejezus out of each other. After that, it’s up to the developers to come up with new hooks and incentives to lure fans back in and, up to this point, these efforts have been pretty hit or miss.

Tekken 6 tried it by adding an explorable sort of “adventure mode” that also tied directly into the stories of newcomers Lars and Allessa. Soul Caliber has tried implementing similar “adventure” modes as well as including popular characters from other game series’ such as Assassin’s Creed and The Legend of Zelda. Dead Or Alive has opted to focus on unlockable costumes that tend to prominently display a female fighter’s…”generous assets.” Personally, while these modes and extras can be fun in their own right, I feel that overall they detract from what makes a fighting game a *fighting* game and that if developers want to make the genre appealing to a new generation of gamers, they should focus more on improving the core experience.

A good place to start would be making the game accessible to players of all skill levels. As much as I enjoy the aesthetic concepts of fighting series’ such as Street Fighter, BlazBlue, and King Of Fighters, their tendencies towards steep learning curves turned me off rather quickly. In order to be successful, a fighting game has to find that sweet spot where it can be accessible to both new and hardcore players. One good example is Marvel vs. Capcom 3 which offered both a simple and normal control scheme, allowing new players to easily and quickly get accustomed with a character’s movesets, as well as a wide range of difficulties.

Customization is another important element that I hope more and more fighting game franchises embrace. It doesn’t even necessarily have to mean allowing us to create our own fighters; simply allowing us to custom-tailor aspects of the existing fighters is enough. Franchises such as Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and Soul Caliber already include such features and have for some time. I wouldn’t mind seeing it carried over to other popular franchises such as Dead or Alive or Street Fighter either.

But what can players do once they’ve learned a character’s moves and customized their appearance? Why, give us a bunch of in-game challenges and unlockables of course! No need to shoehorn in some sort of adventure/RTS-style game mode, just give gamers a bunch of cool challenges to work towards completing with their favorite characters and, of course, give them some sweet rewards to unlock for completing said challenges. Virtua Fighter 5’s Quest Mode had a cool little system in which a prize such as new clothing options or in-game currency could be randomly awarded for winning certain matches. I’d love to see that concept taken one step further by allowing players to unlock entire outfits, new stages, heck, even whole new characters by completing challenges in-game. 

Lastly, there’s the tried and true fighting game staple of online play. As popular as online modes are, there’s always room for improvement. One way to do this would be offering some sort of cooperative online options in addition to the standard competitive setup. How would co-op work in a fighting game you ask? How about offering players a mode in which they could form a tag-team and take on a series of progressively harder A.I. characters? This mode could also tie in to some of the in-game challenges I mentioned earlier, further increasing the incentive for players to take the fight online.

These are just some of the ways in which the fighting game genre can hopefully grow and expand along with all the new hardware that will no doubt be showing up within the next few years. As games continue to evolve in order to meet the heightened expectations of modern gamers, I feel that now more than ever, it is important for fighting game developers to “up their game” and deliver a truly revolutionary fighting game experience that deserves the title of “next gen.”

Follow me on Twitter at @NateHohl and check out my other work at vgutopia.com and rantgaming.com

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