Playing through Abyss Odyssey, the latest game from Ace Team has left me cold. The developers touted a combat system akin to fighting games but from what I’ve seen, what they have doesn’t come close. The art of making not just a fighting game but one that can stand up at a tournament like EVO requires a special eye to detail and one that a lot of designers don’t have.

UltraStreetFighter4 560x200 Fighting Game Design Fundamentals

The Feel of Fighting:

Feel is one of those words that it’s hard to accurately explain it to someone new. Even though I’m not a competitive gamer, I’ve played and watched enough fighting games to see how the best ones have a great feel to them.

Feel in this definition refers to several qualities of the game mechanics, the first of which is responsiveness. Good fighting game design relies on very responsive controls to the point that the character should react almost as fast as the person inputting the commands. Watch any competitive level fighting game footage and you can see how quick these characters move in the hands of an expert.

It’s almost a 1:1 ratio of input to response and is required for the next part of how feel works: transitions. Transitions are the act of stringing moves together to create combos. This can be done either by hard coding combos or by having the character be so responsive that the player can figure out the best way to string them together themselves.

Again, watch any button intensive fighting game like Street Fighter or Injustice and see how the player can string combos and special attacks together to create extended combos. It really is fantastic to watch someone play at the competitive level and be able to pull off these attacks. This is one of the reasons why I feel like E-Sports at this level should be considered a sporting event as the time and dexterity required to master these moves is incredible.

Skullgirls 300x240 Fighting Game Design Fundamentals

Fighting games need to have a variety of moves for creating fluid and responsive characters

When everything works right, you end up with a responsive character and move set that allows a creative player to start experimenting with attacks to come up with their own combos.

Speaking of attacks and combos, the next step for a good fighting game and perhaps the hardest to pull off is adding a technical level of gameplay.

Techy Fighting:

Technical maneuvers refer to advanced play in fighting games and where experts begin to break the game down. This is where the concepts of punishes, playing footies, analyzing frames and more come in.

This is the level of play that is pretty much reserved for the hardcore or professional part of your audience. A casual fan is not going to understand how to analyze frames or the concept of frame canceling. Yet if you want your fighting game to not be looked down on by the hardcore, it needs to have these mechanics in place. Again, this is something that is hard to explain through text as we are getting into some very advanced concepts. The best thing would be to watch any footage of EVO finals on games like Street Fighter, Smash Brothers and so on.

What’s very interesting is that Smash Brothers was not designed at all from a competitive point of view and it was simply a lightning strikes moment that the hardcore audience took to it for tournaments. And now Nintendo is sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place of making a casual affair while still having the appeal to the hardcore community.

Abyss Odyssey 4 300x240 Fighting Game Design Fundamentals

Abyss Odyssey tries to capture the fighting game spirit, but lacks advanced moves and fluidity and comes off as being clunky

I wrote a post a year or so ago talking about what kind of design that competitive gamers like so I won’t repeat myself on mechanics and design philosophy.

But the point to understand is that there has to be more meat to the experience than just simple combos to say that your game has fighting design in it.

There needs to be a combination of offensive and defensive maneuvers for the player to make use of. This is where Abyss Odyssey slips up as it has the foundation for fighting game design: Attacks that can be chained together and special maneuvers, but lacks that next step towards technical play.

Technical play is what really separates the fighting games that are just okay, from the ones that the competitive crowd will lean towards and use for tournaments.

Because technical play is the deciding factor between casual and hardcore play, it’s important to have some kind of tutorial or ways for players to learn this that aren’t a part of the competitive crowd. Skullgirls featured a great tutorial that went through all the mechanics, systems, special moves and combos for all the different characters.

From what I’ve heard, Killer Instinct also has a great learning mode for understanding frame canceling and higher level play. This is a far cry from earlier fighting games which left you to figure out combos and special moves to yourself. And it’s great that fighting game developers are designing them with intent to grow and cultivate a fan base instead of being just for the hardcore.

Finish Him:

Good fighting game design like action games requires systems for all skill levels. The devil is in the details as technical play needs to be properly understood and balanced. You don’t want to hit someone over the head with it but they should still be able to grow to understand it as they increase in skill.

I hate to keep harping on this, but this is one of those topics where you really need to watch footage just as much as reading about it. Even if you have played fighting games, it really is different examining competitive level play and should be required viewing for anyone interested in making a fighting game.

( For a more detailed look at technical play, here is a followup post I wrote on the subject)

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“Fighting Game Design Fundamentals”

  • Charles Geringer

    “The best thing would be to watch any footage of EVO finals ”
    i disagree.

    Even though after you get a absic understanding oc competitive play, evo finals are very interesting, it is very hard for a newbie to pick the concepts just by watching.

    Evo has amazing examples of superb execution, but it canbe fairly hard to understand the “why” s of each execution if you don´t know what to look for.

    I would recomend Sirlin´s blog as the most acessible start, specially his article on “Frame Advantage” and the ones on “yomi”.

    I also feel that even though you touched a bit on it on your comment about need of offensive and defensive maneuvers, you failed to mention what I believe is th emsot basic and most important fundament: The necessity of having an aswer for all situations. (e.g.: the existence of guard breaks or throws that nulify the strategy of just crouching and blocking indefinitely).

    Do you think Guacamelee suceeded where Abyss odissey failed?

  • Charles Geringer

    “The best thing would be to watch any footage of EVO finals ”
    i disagree.

    Even though after you get a absic understanding oc competitive play, evo finals are very interesting, it is very hard for a newbie to pick the concepts just by watching.

    Evo has amazing examples of superb execution, but it canbe fairly hard to understand the “why” s of each execution if you don´t know what to look for.

    I would recomend Sirlin´s blog as the most acessible start, specially his article on “Frame Advantage” and the ones on “yomi”.

    I also feel that even though you touched a bit on it on your comment about need of offensive and defensive maneuvers, you failed to mention what I believe is th emsot basic and most important fundament: The necessity of having an aswer for all situations. (e.g.: the existence of guard breaks or throws that nulify the strategy of just crouching and blocking indefinitely).

    Do you think Guacamelee suceeded where Abyss odissey failed?

    • In regards to more of the basic understanding of fighting game mechanics. I realized that I did gloss over that and I’m already writing a part two to explain more about that.

      With Guacamelee, it succeeds a bit more than Abyss thanks to having more defensive and offensive options, but it also became very repetitive due to the limited mechanics. Looking at both titles, neither of them were really designed with fighting game mechanics first and foremost, but were instead designed as either a metroidvania style or Rogue-like with the fighting mechanics as a secondary system.

      • Charles Geringer

        not metroidvania, but i think one of the best mixes of fighting mechanics and platforming is “Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero” I also think that some beat-em ups could be a good starting point for someone who want to mix fighting game design with an element of spacial progression.

        I get the impression that taito’s Lightbringer, and Eido´s “Ninja: Shadow of Darkness”would offer a good starting point for something with 3D movement that wants to blend the two from amore isometric perspective.

        I feel that as long as your game has combat of any kind, you should take a look at figting game design.

        • I enjoyed Sub Zero as well even though I remember it being killed in reviews. Did you ever play the Action adventure Mortal Kombat game with Liu Kang and Kung Lao? I thought that was pretty interesting as a way of combining action adventure with the fighting game format.

  • Yugijak

    I actually have a fighting game I wanted to make that takes an alternative approach.

    It reverses the typical design perspective of bullet hell games with a competitive component so that it’s a fighting game with bullet hell mechanics as opposed to a bullet hell game with fighting mechanics.

    Basically, a more advanced version of Megaman: The Power Battle. Complete with movement options.

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