Fighting Games Symposium

PLACEHOLDER.

Earlier this year, I wrote a few articles addressing some concerns I have with the fighting games genre. The first, Failures in Training, addressed the inefficiency of fighting game tutorials. The third, Fixing Fighting Games, dealt with anemic game mode selection and mapped out the features each fighting game should include. Both sparked a lot of discussion, so I put together a quick list of questions and presented them to a handful of fighting game developers and community members. I would also like to extend a sincere "Thank you!" to all of the respondents. There is a ton of great insight and feedback here that makes me excited for the future of the genre.

Seth Killian, Special Combat Adviser, Capcom

Why do people enjoy fighting games?

There are lots of reasons to enjoy fighters, but people love them because it's one of the deepest experiences you can have with another person in the video game medium. At their best, fighting games are like improv jazz, or a great conversation (maybe more like an argument?), and although they may have consistent patterns or flow, a match can be something excitingly new every time.

Fighters have a lot of interesting mechanics and systems to explore, but once you understand them, then the game really begins as you explore the mind of your opponent. In a good fighter, each character will have a strong personality and style, but then you join your own personal characteristics--your strengths, weaknesses, and overall style--with the character's to create something unique.

I can tell which top player is playing a particular character without needing to see their name because their unique flair shines right through in the gameplay. This is only possible because there are so many unique options and meaningful decisions in every match that a player's self-expression can really shine through. You can really inhabit the game, while simultaneously having a great feeling of mastery.

Also, there's the joy of beating the snot out of people--that should not be underestimated.

How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games, are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games or their community?

They can be very important. I'm not sure they benefit the wider community directly, but they can certainly add a lot to the games as a product on the single-player side, which is a great way to broaden the base of people interested overall and add value for players who aren't as interested in fighting against other people. There's no question for me that the greatest magic of fighting games lies in the versus modes, but for people with a more casual interest, or that just like the characters, story, or having some goofy fun, they can be right at the top for attractive features, so ignoring them can really limit your game's appeal.

Do you think the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?

I take this issue very seriously because the whole reason I joined the industry in the first place was to try and help restore the fighting genre. I didn't need the job, and gave up a lot to take it, but as a devotee, it was hard for me to see fighters slumping, and Street Fighter IV was the chance to help return the genre to prominence and respect. Fighters aren't the easiest games to truly understand, but I believe they're not just a great genre, but actually one of the greatest achievements in all of games and something we should fight to have recognized more widely.

At their best, fighting games are like improv jazz, or a great conversation (maybe more like an argument?), and although they may have consistent patterns or flow, a match can be something excitingly new every time.

I didn't need the job, and gave up a lot to take it, but as a devotee, it was hard to see fighters slumping, and Street Fighter IV was the chance to help return the genre to prominence. SFIV definitely reinvigorated things, and while "implosion" is a risk for any genre, it's particularly acute for fighters because of how challenging they are. There are probably two primary forces at play here: the challenge of the games themselves, and the "network effect" of having more players playing any one title.

The "network effect" is the way I think about how wins in a given fighting game develop meaning and value for the players. Basically, the more people that are playing any one game, the more meaningful your skill at that game becomes. You might be the world's greatest Clay Fighter player, but with only four other people still playing that game, there's less collective meaning in that title, less challenge, and, correspondingly, less incentive for others to get into the game.

On the challenge front, understanding even one fighting game at a competitive level can be much more difficult than, say, completing the 20 best-selling games of the year. So if you release too many deep fighting games, you are essentially tasking players with making that kind of commitment many times, which can create a dangerous strain. It's kind of like a teacher giving out homework. Even if the class is fantastic and the problems are really interesting, if the workload is just too high, students won't be able to keep up. If they are enrolled in a few classes like this, the problem only gets worse.

So, as publishers in a genre, if we are collectively targeting the same group too often, we risk asking the players to invest more time than they may have, and even if they are dedicated players (or good students, in the former analogy), they may not be able to keep up. On the other side, even if there are more players overall, but fewer playing any given title, the value of their investment and their skill is worth less. Balancing these two things is critical to maintain the genre, and it's especially challenging because you have multiple publishers who all want to find success and are actively competing with one another for attention.

How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre, and should fighting games be responsible for teaching concepts such as cross-ups and option-selects?

While this is something that Capcom is actively working to address, there's no question that fighters are tough to master and require training.

Part of the glory of achievement is difficulty, but there are good kinds of difficulty (inventing a new strategy, outthinking a great opponent) and bad kinds of difficulty (making a move really physically hard to do), and the genre hasn't always been good about distinguishing between the two. There should be a greater focus on teaching theory in-game, but the Internet and the player community itself have been outstanding in creating thousands and thousands of resources for exactly this purpose.

Creating a great game--the kind of game that deserves to have its theory analyzed in detail--is also a lot of very hard work. Teaching that theory is also a lot of work and, on the development side, creation takes priority. This issue is complicated further by the fact that theory evolves over time, so it's not as simple as creating an industry-leading tutorial; it's also finding ways to update that resource as the metagame develops. That said, just because this is a really challenging task, it's still what the genre needs, and we have plans to continue pushing the bar forward.

Most fighting games follow a cycle of training and playing competitively. Can a fighting game break this cycle and still be considered a fighting game? What will it take to realize the fighting game equivalent of a Portal or Fallout 3?

[Fighting games] can't be meaningfully separated from versus play.

If the contrast is between single-player and versus, then I'd say there are already great single-player fighting games. Devil May Cry was a pioneer in the genre, and there are other great games like God of War and Bayonetta. They share a lot of the same core combat concepts, utilize similar mechanics, and even get combo videos and the like. Even the old arcade game Alien vs. Predator had a genuinely interesting combat engine and combo possibilities.

So, much like Portal or Fallout 3 did with shooter mechanics, these games use the tools of great fighting games to create a different kind of experience. I'm not sure I would call them fighting games, however, because, for me at least, the genre can't be meaningfully separated from versus play--that's what keeps people engaged in the same fighter for over 15 years.

Why do fighting games need to evolve?

While I think there is still room for different ideas about what could make for a great fighting game, in the near term, I think the most productive evolutions will be around, rather than within, the games.

There's already interest from a good player base, and the games at their core are so good that they can literally provide decades of entertainment, but they also present a series of challenges and barriers to new players, as well as a set of burdens on existing fans. It's solving this equation that will be the key. Next steps are all a manner of improved educational outreach--from improved training modes, to live streaming, to new ways to connect players with one another. It's creating a community that can really drive things forward beyond a publisher's limited marketing campaigns and make the games take on a life of their own.

There are a lot of very challenging variables to balance to keep fighting games hot, but as with so many other pursuits, the best things in life aren't easy.

Yosuke Hayashi, Leader, Team NINJA

Why do people enjoy fighting games?

I would say that competing against others is human nature. The most primitive form of competition is through fighting. In this way, fighting games are very close to the human instinct, and they don't need to be described in words. So it's for this reason that I believe fighting games are loved and played across the globe.

How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games? Are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games or their community?

I believe they are important as they help to expand the genre and, in turn, expand the audience. They offer another dimension to players who want to enjoy fighting games more casually, which is a nice complement to the core community. As long as the game is high quality and delivers a great core fighting game experience, I think it's a great way to create new fans of fighting.

Take boxing as an example. Not all people who train for boxing are aiming for the throne of world champion. Some are doing it to get fit. And some may want to become coaches. I believe these different aims also apply to fighting games. All players who play fighting games are not aiming to be the best fighter in the world. For players such as this, the modes you mentioned are a necessity to let them get into the game from their angle.

However, that said, in the Dead or Alive series up to now we have never had a nontraditional mode separate to the fighting, and we do not intend to put one in Dead or Alive 5. What we are doing is giving players the fighting they want, as well as other forms of fun within this spectrum (besides just fighting against others). Past examples of this in Dead or Alive were the different ending movies for each character, unlocking costumes, etc.

Do you believe the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?

I believe this is a correct statement. Genres of gaming that do nothing to bring in new players are moving toward an inevitable downfall. Minor updates to new games in a franchise will not bring in new players or grow with existing players.

Fighting games revolve around players fighting against each other. This is a must for our fans, and it is of the utmost importance for us to provide them with this element. And that's what we are doing in DOA5. That's why we released the alpha version demo--which received a lot of feedback from gamers that we will do our best to implement into the final version.

Genres of gaming that do nothing to bring in new players are moving toward an inevitable downfall.

But this is not enough! As you were talking about the genre imploding and nontraditional modes, I can sense that your implication lies in the fact that there is no evolution in the most important and core part of these games: the fighting. And no matter what the fighting game, all of these games look pretty much the same--that is the impression I get from your questions.

What we are aiming for in DOA5 is for any player to easily understand that the core element of fighting has evolved. The concept for this game is fighting entertainment. With the gameplay vignettes we are releasing, we want to demonstrate that we are keeping this core fighting element in the game and, at the same time, mixing it together with incredible stage interactions to provide a new form of fighting. This type of gameplay is our attempt to bring in new players to the genre.

How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre, and should fighting games be responsible for teaching concepts such as cross-ups and option-selects?

I believe not having any information in the game and telling people to go and search the Web for answers is inconsiderate in this day and age. However, this theory can be compared to the boxing example that I just described: you must practice a fighting system hands-on and gain experience intuitively from that. Simply said, this theory is something that you need to remember with your body. And you certainly cannot do this against a CPU opponent that stands around and does nothing. That's why fighting theory is difficult to teach in the game itself.

In Dead or Alive: Dimensions that we released last year on the 3DS, we tried to teach not only the combos but also the basics of this theory to the players in the story mode while they learned and absorbed the game system. In Dead or Alive 5 we are considering a way we can teach this theory so that players can understand and absorb it more naturally.

Most fighting games follow a cycle of training and playing competitively. Can a fighting game break this cycle and still be considered a fighting game? What will it take to realize the fighting game equivalent of a Portal or Fallout 3?

I don't think that games like this can be called fighting games. The FPS genre is defined as a first-person shooting genre, so games such as Fallout and Portal are adding puzzle and RPG elements to the equation. If you take a fighting game and mix it with something else, I think that this formula would result in the birth of a new genre. But I don't believe that this genre could be called a fighting game as a result. That is why we are trying to evolve the genre within the standard fighting game routine and are undertaking this challenge with DOA5.

Why do fighting games need to evolve?

It's simple: no one wants games that don't change and evolve. Change and evolution are what games are made for. This is true for fighting games too. I believe the core mechanics and spirit should stay true to the category, but we need to also balance that with creating something new, and different in some ways, to stay relevant to consumers' expectations and desires--especially since we've the ability to utilize new technological advancements with each hardware cycle.

Mike Zaimont, Lead Programmer, Reverge Labs

Why do people enjoy fighting games?

To me, the reasons people enjoy fighting games change as their level of understanding increases. At a low level of skill, you can push buttons and make flashy things happen and occasionally win. That's neat, and you can add things like Crush the Car or Test Your Might to increase the longevity of this level of interaction. However, in my opinion, focusing on this type of play is selling the genre short.

The true beauty of fighting games emerges once you get past the presentation and strip away the sparkles or the blood. The aspect I see bringing people back to fighting games time and again is the interaction with other people. I have always viewed fighting games like chess, with the addition of manual dexterity: two people, starting on equal footing with equal advantages under the rules, competing to see who can outthink, outplay, and outmaneuver the other. Learning new tricks, acquiring new knowledge, learning to anticipate someone else's reactions--this makes fighting games great.

It may take a while before a new player appreciates all that, but it's what keeps veterans playing. It's why 15-year-old games on obsolete hardware are still alive and kicking at major gatherings, and it is something that is always there no matter which game you choose. The real fun is playing each other, not playing the AI. In my eyes, this--and this alone--epitomizes the genre.

How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games, are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games and/or their community?

This depends on your definition of "importance." I've certainly lost countless hours to Street Fighter Alpha 3's World Tour mode, SoulCalibur II's Weapon Master mode, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha's Expert Practice mode, or Guilty Gear XX Accent Core's Survival and Medal of Millionaire modes. But I would argue these are bonuses to be added to sequels, rather than to devote development time to while creating a new game. They are certainly fun, and serve to add incentive for new players to buy a game, but how long will people play solely based on these things? Once you're a Level 99 Ultimate Edgemaster, what brings you back?

If the mechanics of a game are solid, in my mind nothing is necessary for enjoyment beyond versus, training, and good netplay--and even netplay could be done without, though it is extremely useful for providing opponents if there is no local community for the game. In the long run, if the core gameplay is fun and absorbing, all those extra modes are fluff and should have absolutely nothing to do with determining whether the game is "good" or not. Even if you play The Subspace Emissary (Super Smash Bros. Brawl's incredibly long single-player campaign) for 10 hours, compare that to people playing Super Smash Bros. Melee in versus for 10 years.

If these extra modes bring any benefit to the community, it is to entice new players to try the game, in the hopes that some will get caught up in the real magic. Or, to be cynical, the presence of extra modes increases review scores--since many game reviewers are not fighting game fans and tend to place disproportionate emphasis on "content." If development time permits, of course any fun minigames the designers can think of should go in, because, hey, why not? Games are about fun, so anything developers can do to increase fun, they should do. But if there is a choice between improving the core mechanics or adding another mode, my vote is to skip the gimmicks and make the versus experience as solid as possible--because if your core game isn't good, none of the extra modes will be, either.

Do you think the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?

I do not think the fighting genre is at risk of imploding. To paraphrase a friend, this is like saying "hip-hop is dead" when it has simply faded from the mainstream. Fighting games won't disappear the way adventure games pretty much have, but they may return to their former status. Games may no longer sell 4 million copies like Street Fighter IV, and it will not be guaranteed that developers can put out any old brand-name sequel and make a profit, but fighting games will still sell if they are good, and they will continue to be produced by companies who wish to. I don't think the majority of people are really interested in the depth that fighting games have to offer beyond enjoying the flashy surface, but enough people are.

I don't think the majority of people are really interested in the depth that fighting games have to offer beyond the flashy surface.

Between the end of the last fighting game boom and the beginning of this one, the genre never died. Tournaments were held, including the birth of the now-huge Evolution, and people traveled cross-country to compete. Player skill reached new peaks, games were explored in ways their creators could never have predicted, and those few that stood the test of time are still played today. Sure, we didn't have player sponsorships and the other trappings of mainstream popularity, but another period like this is nothing to fear--for players. For developers hoping to make a quick buck off games that don't hold up under stress, it's probably time to move on to the next fad.

However, I think the advent of good online play and the growth in online communities will help maintain them longer, because it means that you can keep playing the game even if your local friends have moved on.

How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre, and should fighting games be responsible for teaching concepts such as cross-ups and option-selects?

Fighting games are probably the worst genre at teaching new players how to properly approach playing them. Some of the best tutorials, like Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha's Expert Practice mode or the famous Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution training mode, attempt to impart more useful information, such as "Slide underneath fireballs" or "Land a counter." For the most part, however, games teach specific systems, such as "Here is how to throw," "Here is how to block," and "Here is how to perform a fireball," without teaching the concepts: "This is why to block" or "This is how to hit-confirm an attack so you can land that huge combo." Mostly, fighting game tutorials don't teach lessons that can be applied in various situations; they simply instruct players how to perform a special move or a flashy combo.

I believe we can do better. I have felt for a long time that this educational gap is a huge contributing factor to fighting games' stigma of complexity--there is as much to know about multiplayer Call of Duty or Mario Kart as there is about Street Fighter or Melty Blood, but most people will tell you fighting games are very complicated because even the basics are so daunting. It is up to developers to change that. I've had this feeling for a long time, and with Skullgirls I tried to put my money where my mouth is. We explain defending against mix-ups, punishing unsafe attacks, hit-confirming, how to set up and avoid tick throws, and more. These are basic concepts that are useful no matter which game you play but have thus far been completely neglected in tutorials. I think we did a pretty good job, and I'm proud of that, but I think we can do even better.

We can open players' eyes to the joy of fighting games on a whole new level, and it is our responsibility as designers to do so.

Most fighting games follow a cycle of training and playing competitively. Can a fighting game break this cycle and still be considered a fighting game? What will it take to realize the fighting game equivalent of a Portal or Fallout 3?

As described by you, Portal and Fallout 3 take the first-person shooter genre, one defined as consisting of certain similar competitive games, and remove the competitive aspect while maintaining whatever else is left. Under that assumption, the "fighting game equivalent of Portal or Fallout 3" is the beat-'em-up genre, which has existed as a genre for longer than two-player fighting games have. Karateka, Battletoads, TMNT: Turtles in Time, The Peace Keepers, Alien vs. Predator, God Hand, Devil May Cry, God of War--the list goes on. Even Punch Out!! probably qualifies. Basically, fighting games are, and have always been, the multiplayer distillation of these games.

A fighting game features combat designed to provide interesting interactions between two or more equally skilled human players, whereas a beat-'em-up features combat designed to provide human players with a feeling of power as they pummel CPU-controlled opponents and, generally, advance through levels toward some sort of boss. The difference lies in the fact that the AI can't get mad and quit in frustration.

What I'm really not sure about is why you suggest that this--ahem--mythical game would be some sort of advancement of the genre. Beat-'em-ups are certainly fun, but once you've done everything there is to do, you're done. You're playing for the game's rewards--higher levels or an ending--rather than the intrinsic rewards offered by competitive play, insight and improvement. You don't have to learn all those concepts like cross-ups addressed in the previous question, because if you figure out how to beat the AI, it will never adapt. The same can be said of single-player modes in fighting games--Makoto in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is a good example, since the AI will never adapt to the same three-move pattern repeated until victory.

To ask this question backward: If you are an FPS fan who has played Portal wouldn't a Portal-gun deathmatch (or "cakematch," I suppose) or team puzzle mode be amazing?

Why do fighting games need to evolve?

In my opinion fighting games do need to evolve, but not in the way suggested by the previous article--in fact, entirely the opposite. Rather than extending a superficial single-player experience by offering extra modes that reward the player with trinkets, I believe the genre should focus on educating new arrivals about what makes fighting games fun to the people who already love them. Show novices how to get into and make the most of multiplayer, and make the game systems deep and balanced enough that the experience is rewarding in and of itself.

Maximilian is the founder/director/producer/star of Online Warrior Productions, a studio dedicated to fighting game entertainment and education. On his YouTube channel, you'll find dozens of videos filled with commentary, insight, and a dash of cheesy humor. When you're done here, look him up!

Maximilian Christiansen, Director, Online Warrior Productions

Why do people enjoy fighting games?

The obvious reason is the aspiration to win during competition. To find someone of greater skill and take their title, or to find someone of equal skill and battle until the break of dawn. Of course, the goal of this is to win, because winning feels good--but I think the level of enjoyment has really changed since the arcade age of fighters.

Many players now flock to a fighting game because it brings back memories of those arcade moments, or of them being younger. Some find the new SoulCalibur, Mortal Kombat, or Street Fighter games nostalgic. They remind the player of the Dreamcast days with SoulCalibur, of performing their first fatality against a friend in Mortal Kombat, or of throwing hadokens and mashing lightning kicks for hours on an SNES pad in Street Fighter II. At that point, I think it really becomes a love for the game itself, and the natural progression for a person like that is to eventually become a part of the fighting game community.

How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games, are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games and/or their community?

For the hardcore fans of the series, not at all. Many others I know who play fighting games for the characters/gameplay will completely ignore things like World Tour, Survival, and other modes like that. However, the hardcore represent less than five percent of the total number of people who purchase a fighting game. For the greater 90 to 95 percent of folks, those modes are crucial.

Not everyone has access to local tournaments, casual fight days, or even competent online play. Even though I don't personally play them myself, competent story features (Mortal Kombat), World Tour modes (Street Fighter Alpha 3, SoulCalibur), and detailed tutorials (BlazeBlue) are the deal breaker. I hope in time developers realize this, as it can be extremely difficult to convince the 90 to 95 percent that they should buy this fighting game because it's a really good fighting game. If that were the case, we'd all be playing Virtua Fighter 5 right now.

Do you believe the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?

I do. There are a lot of fighters currently out right now, and for a guy like me who loves and produces daily content for this genre of gaming, it can be exhausting to keep up with each game. There was a huge drought of over five years with no Capcom fighting games, and it seemed like Street Fighter was dead and Capcom had moved on. For guys like me, there were still other games being released in that time frame: The King of Fighters, Tekken, Guilty Gear, Rumble Fish, and others. As I tried these games out, the ones I kept going back to were the Capcom classics: Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Alpha 3, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Capcom vs. SNK 2, and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike.

This was because in all the arcades I visited in the early- to mid-2000s, everyone played those games! Every local arcade on the weekend had a line to play MVC2, while the console version cost $60 to $150 used. What I'm getting at is I see this happening again. Over the past year we had three new Capcom fighters: Super Street Fighter IV, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Street Fighter X Tekken. Depending on how well SFXT sells, I think it could potentially be the new 3rd Strike: a game that's loved, and hated, by many.

SFXT tried to cater a bit towards a newer audience, and I believe they did a good job with some of these mechanics. However, the game was getting a bad reputation early on with gems, and this whole DLC fiasco just added more dirt on top of the coffin. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful things when selling a game. Call of Duty 4 and Street Fighter IV are perfect examples of people engaging that social viral magic creating a blockbuster of success.

How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre, and should fighting games be responsible for teaching concepts such as cross-ups and option-selects?

I will completely agree that most current fighting games don't take advantage of teaching new players how to play. The theories you speak of, such as option selects, are way down the school curriculum of learning how to get better. There are already thousands of videos on the Net dedicated to teaching these aspects and making the good players better and the better players the best. But even in the games and on the Net, there's still little to offer for the guy who only thinks, "These buttons do kicks, and these buttons do punches."

What I want to see in a fighting game is a basic-level tutorial that rewards completion. I want lessons that teach you what a cancel is, or how to perform a shoryuken motion, or how to airdash, or how to tick throw. These are very basic tactics that make sense to anyone who has played a fighting game over the past 10 years. But to the greater majority, or what I like to call "the 80 percent of folks that buy fighting games," these concepts are completely alien.

My dream fighting game tutorial teaches you these fundamentals and puts you into a scenario. This scenario pits you against an AI opponent who will perform an action that requires you to take advantage of what you just learned to complete the tutorial. It helps to show people what needs to be done, but it's completely different, and much more satisfying, to actually do it by yourself. Skullgirls does this with its tutorial mode sometimes, and it's very helpful.

Most fighting games follow a cycle of training and playing competitively. Can a fighting game break this cycle and still be considered a fighting game? What will it take to realize the fighting game equivalent of a Portal or Fallout 3?

For the modern understanding of a fighting game, the cycle of training to play competitively is necessary, which makes it difficult for many players to remain engaged. But there have been previous attempts to take fighting games outside of the competitive environment that were fairly successful. Perhaps the best example I can give was the Dreamcast classic Shenmue. The combat system in Shenmue was essentially a street brawler, but to anyone who played Virtua Fighter years before, it felt very similar.

It's not a perfect example because it wasn't the same 3D closed arena type of fighting, but it came very close and was developed by the same studio. I think the Portal/Fallout 3 equivalent of fighting games is possible. A game that actually makes you learn things like option selects, crossovers, super cancels, and all the other technical aspects--but in a single-player environment, where you're not forced to learn something while playing against someone. It would be at your own pace. I only hope I'm alive the day when a Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat action adventure role-playing game is eventually released.

Why do fighting games need to evolve?

Taking into consideration what we spoke of earlier, I think fighting games need to remain similar to current releases, but offer something extra for that 80 percent of people who are just hitting punches, kicks, and assists. Fun and interesting story modes; World Tour modes that level up your character; consistently earning points and unlocks; online modes that not only perform well during battle, but make it easy to get into the next game and also consistently reward you for playing other people and playing online; and finally, features that properly guide and teach you how to become decent at the game without skipping over glaring and important details or glossing over high-level tactics.

I think it's possible, and it seems like it should be the standard for a successful fighter. However, it still hasn't happened yet.

Patrick Riley, Director of International Product Development, SEGA

Why do people enjoy fighting games?

One of the more thought-provoking Game Developers Conference presentations that I saw this year was the "Five Domains of Play" presentation, which applied the Big 5 OCEAN framework of personality traits to game design and player motivation. This talk really drove home how different the motivations of players can be. While fighting game players probably share some personality traits and motivations--such as enjoying player-vs.-player competition and getting a thrill out of victory--it makes me hesitant to provide a sweeping generalization.

I know a lot of the hardcore players do enjoy the competition, and great fighting games are unlike many other games in that they are more like a discipline, such as playing a musical instrument. You can play for fun, but to truly excel you need to put in the time and practice; a great fighting game will reward that investment in spades.

Another thing I think that can make fighting games attractive is that the limited scope of the game (a series of arena environments with a set number of characters being the heart of the game) makes it easier to do great things more quickly with technology or a theme. This was especially apparent in the halcyon days of the arcade. I lived in Japan through the '90s and will never forget how amazing Virtua Fighter 1, 2, and 3 were at the time of release.

How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games, are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games and/or their community?

If the modes are fun, and if they contribute to increasing the audience, then of course they are worth it. But it's often difficult in the early stages of development to know if they will work. When the rubber starts to meet the road, if development starts to fall behind, non-core features like this are the first thing to be cut. Another challenge is that fighting game developers are often of a different type of developer: they're very dedicated to their craft, but adding deep and compelling narratives and alternative modes of gameplay may not be part of their forte, or these things may be seen as a distraction.

Do you believe the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?

One thing that makes it difficult to break out of the tried-and-true approach is that quality and new approaches are not always rewarded.

I absolutely agree. One thing that makes it difficult to break out of the tried-and-true approach is that quality and new approaches are not always rewarded. Virtua Fighter 5 rated highly on Metacritic. The 360 version was also on the forefront of online play for console fighting games, and yet it was a sales disappointment.

Sega definitely has some responsibility, and we're applying a lot of the lessons we learned to what we are doing with Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown, such as trying to engage the community more deeply and showcase the title at events.

Unfortunately, this type of experience tends to make companies more conservative with a brand and less willing to take risks. Particularly, coming from the standpoint in which our last outing was a sales disappointment, we were very aware of the need to grow the audience. Even up to a year before we started development on the title, we requested that the development team include a training mode--similar to the one in Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution--that took players through the fundamentals.

How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre, and should fighting games be responsible for teaching concepts such as cross-ups and option selects?

I agree that fighting games should do a better job of teaching intermediate concepts and theory. We've always encouraged our development teams in this direction, and they understand the value and want to do this. The challenge, though, is that training modes take a large amount of extra programming and debug time, and we haven't been able to afford to build our dream training mode.

Most fighting games follow a cycle of training and then playing competitively. Can a fighting game break this cycle and still be considered a fighting game? What will it take to realize the fighting game equivalent of a Portal or Fallout 3?

Yes, I believe so, but I think the answer will depend on a number of factors, which include what and how the gamer defines a "fighting" game. It could just as easily be said that a fighting game could break this cycle, but would it be considered a good fighting game? For myself, a few key components that are expected in a fighting game would include a rhythm (combo system) and a move list that needs to be learned in order to be effective at a high level of play. If we were to apply these expectations, then I believe we already have fighting game equivalents of a Portal or Fallout 3, in games such as Bayonetta and Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram.

Why do fighting games need to evolve?

If fighting games did not evolve, what point would there be to release a "new" fighting game? I think, much like most other game genres, the evolution of gameplay is needed to provide a new experience to the gamer. Otherwise, they'd be content playing the same game without the need to buy anything else.

James Chen is a long-running member of the fighting game community. Together with David "UltraDavid" Graham, he produces video content for fighting game veterans and newcomers alike. You can find him on Twitch.tv and follow him on Twitter.

James Chen, Fighting Game Commentator and UltraChenTV Co-Host

Why do people enjoy fighting games?

It's just human nature to enjoy competition. Since early civilization, people have been competing against each other: Go, chess, the Olympics, etc. In fact, if you think about it, video games were created on the basis of competition. Pong was one of the first video games ever, and it was a competitive game. It's almost shocking how much motivation is generated through the idea of competition. Look at Xbox achievement points and leaderboards.

Fighting games turn out to be one of the purest forms of competitive gaming ever thanks to their depth and, thus, appeal to just about everyone's competitive side. People who can't play them wish they could. And, most importantly, fighting games showcase a player's personality. The style in which you play a fighting game is a direct reflection of who you are and how you think, so winning the way you want to win generates a strong sense of pride, almost like self-vindication. Dieminion's solid Guile gameplay, Poongko's crazy Seth mix-ups, and Valle's unpredictable Ryu speak volumes more about the players themselves than the characters they use or the game they are playing.

How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games, are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games and/or their community?

When you look at what fighting games truly are, they aren't particularly important. Fighting games are all about the versus mode--playing against another human. That should be the focus, so resources need to be spent mostly on making sure the online experience is as good as possible.

However, that's just not the reality for fighting games at the moment. When you look at games like StarCraft II, you can get an amazing experience online thanks to the fully developed and integrated Battle.net. Fighting games do not have any equivalent to that, and because of the 1/60th-of-a-second precise nature of fighting games, online hasn't been a plausible way to get a "true" experience just yet.

Even if we could get perfect, lag-free online play, the online experience just isn't properly developed. Online battles for fighting games do not offer an "experience"; they only offer an endless line of faceless opponents. More needs to be done with better global rankings, more global stats, better player profiles, and a more thorough ranking system. Also, more needs to be done to combat cheaters and punish rage quits. A proper Battle.net-like experience would benefit the fighting game genre greatly. Right now, the online experience is just not enjoyable. Most people play it more because they "have to," not because they want to.

As a result, these extra single-player modes need to exist in fighting games to give the game a proper "full experience." Until the online world of fighting games really matures and blossoms into an organized, functional entity, people will feel cheated if their fighting game doesn't have enough ways to get more out of it through single-player modes.

Do you believe the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?

Absolutely. One of the things that caused fighting games to go into the supposed "Dark Ages" over a decade ago was the proliferation of too many fighting games. The problem really comes down to this: people play the games they can win at, not necessarily the games they think are best. I remember that during the days when the gigantic number of Street Fighter II clones started popping up during the Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting era, the community of fighting game players became splintered. Mortal Kombat II fans, Killer Instinct fans, King of Fighters fans, Darkstalkers fans, Samurai Shodown fans--all the fans just played their favorite game (read: the one they could win at).

Convincing people to not buy a fighting game you don't like only hurts the entire genre.

It was too easy to run from the challenge of trying to beat the best player of one game and just go win at another. If you think about it, the two strongest periods of time for fighting games ever were during the original Street Fighter II and during the release of Street Fighter IV. Why? Because those were the only games to play, and if you wanted to play a fighting game, you had to be good enough to win, so the talent level during those two periods rose quickly and solidly.

A side effect of too many games is that the different scenes become fairly venomous towards each other. That's the danger we have now. The different subcommunities all complain about each other's games. Capcom games are called out as being "too mainstream" or derided as "scrubby" in favor of The King of Fighters XIII or Skullgirls. Anime fighting games are made fun of as being only for otakus. Mortal Kombat is looked down upon by many of the more serious fighting game players. Smash Bros. is always teased as a "kiddie game" and not taken seriously. People start to refuse playing other games, and it becomes a divide-and-conquer problem: with everyone in smaller groups, the sales for any one particular fighting game could not justify its own existence.

So we are definitely at risk. The key to not falling into the same trap as before is to try to keep the entire fighting game community together as one. It may sound like a pipe dream, but it's key: we must support each other's games even if we don't play them, and make sure each individual fighting game scene works hard to promote and help each other. There are games that I am not as fond of, but I do everything I can to make people want to play them. You will only hurt yourself by telling people not to play other games, or by calling them "scrubby" or "bad" or "stupid."

Convincing people to not buy a fighting game you don't like only hurts the entire genre.

How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre, and should fighting games be responsible for teaching concepts such as cross-ups and option selects?

Absolutely. The problem is that only one fighting game series has ever done it right when it comes to teaching players. The proper way to teach players the more complex tactics is to almost trick them into learning, and to make the learning process fun and competitive on its own. Most fighting games try to teach you by directly teaching you: tutorials, trials, missions, etc. This isn't the way to go about teaching your players how to play the game.

The only series that has ever done it right--and, of course, this will be a controversial claim because not everyone sees this as a fighting game--is Super Smash Bros. Super Smash Bros. Melee started it, and Brawl expanded on it with the Subspace Emissary, but the crux of the teaching tools are actually Break the Targets and the Home-Run Contest. I'm not sure if people out there realize the crazy number of fundamentals taught in just those two minigames. Break the Targets teaches movement, how your moves hit, timing, outside-the-box thinking with how to use your moves, and a bevy of other skills. Home-Run Contest teaches you maximizing damage in a limited time, spacing, distancing (certain moves do more damage at specific ranges), and manipulating your opponent around a small play field (making sure the punching bag didn't fall off the platform). And the biggest factor with both of those modes is that they are inherently competitive on their own.

The proper way to teach players the more complex tactics is to almost trick them into learning, and to make the learning process fun and competitive on its own.

People foam at the mouth trying to break all the targets as fast as possible. Getting a ridiculous distance on your Home-Run Contest is a huge point of pride amongst your friends. And when you see that your distance, which you thought was amazing, is only half as long as the record, you do research and try to imitate and improve on what they do, making you unintentionally learn new tactics. Then, add to that the fact that the Subspace Emissary forces you to try every character in a fun environment, and you start to like certain characters over others. All of us probably ended up with our "go-to character" in the stages that you were allowed to pick your character, and thus developed a favorite character without even realizing it. And the Subspace Emissary also taught you how to deal with moving opponents and how to avoid damage.

The funny thing is, you've ended up learning a ton of important, core fundamentals about the game and have never realized it just by playing those three modes. Let's face it, when we played Street Fighter II in the arcades long ago, no one taught us any fundamentals. We had to learn them ourselves because we had no fundamentals to be taught yet. And as we got better, we did it by learning fundamentals without knowing it. That's the best way for people to learn.

So, rather than creating tutorials and such, fighting games need to teach people by fooling them into learning. Even things like the car breaking in the original Street Fighter II taught you how to do the biggest damage in the quickest way possible. There needs to be things like that, but obviously more advanced and with better variety and more enjoyment. But most importantly, in this day and age, they must make sure they have online leaderboards and replay features. The natural competitive nature of people will cause them to try and get the best score amongst their friends lists, and that competitive drive will cause them to learn, and when playing competitively against others, they will naturally understand more about things like movement, spacing, and knowing which attacks to use and when.

Most fighting games follow a cycle of training and then playing competitively. Can a fighting game break this cycle and still be considered a fighting game? What will it take to realize the fighting game equivalent of a Portal or Fallout 3?

That doesn't need to happen. In fact, if you think about it, fighting games are the Portal of the genre. I see Street Fighter II as the refined form of beat-'em-ups like Final Fight and such. And now that we've been able to develop so many deep fighting games with amazing levels of strategy, there's no real need to go a completely different direction.

Don't get me wrong: it would be great if fighting games can remain diverse. I wouldn't mind some games trying to go away from life bars or trying more unconventional things. Virtual On, for example, was pretty much a first-person fighting game with mechs. I wouldn't mind that sort of thing, but there's no reason to move beyond the one-on-one competitive nature of a fighting game.

Why do fighting games need to evolve?

Fighting games need to evolve because right now, as I mentioned before, they just don't offer the proper competitive experience, and they need to really start embracing the tournament scene. The online experience needs to improve greatly. Not from a lag standpoint, but from a proper ladder system, proper anti-cheater system, etc. We need better stat tracking, more information, more robust ways to analyze your own match (the recent replay analyzer in Street Fighter X Tekken is a good start).

We need more powerful training modes, where you can program the dummy to do one of two things at random, or make it automatically wake up with a reversal, or to save "situations" that you can instantly reset the state to. In other words, the fighting games themselves need to become robust tools that will help us become stronger competitive players. If we make it so that the online competitive experience is engaging in and of itself, the genre can really move forward.

I acknowledge that this is a huge risk. Doing these sorts of things won't guarantee increased sales, and numbers are always the bottom line. But if you can build brand loyalty, that means a lot. And companies like Blizzard have banked off of brand loyalty by releasing mostly quality products and keeping people interested in their games long-term as opposed to short-term. Initial sales aren't the only factor for them. And they try their best to keep their consumers happy. They aren't perfect, obviously (LAN support for StarCraft II, for example), but their strategy has succeeded pretty well.

If someone out there can really push to make the ultimate competitive fighting game experience like this, and it succeeds, we could possibly see a revolution in the fighting games genre.

Adam Urbano, Senior Producer, NetherRealm Studios

Why do people enjoy fighting games?

Because they are fun! The fighting games genre really exemplifies the "simple to learn, difficult to master" paradigm. It is really entertaining to pick up a controller and beat up on an opponent, and a lot of players find that can be satisfying in and of itself. However, for those who are interested, the genre provides a huge opportunity to spend limitless time mastering the intricacies of not just a specific fighting system, but each specific character as well. Combat is at the essence of gameplay for many, many genres; in the case of fighting games, the combat is the central star, so the depth and options available to the player are unparalleled.

How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games, are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games and/or their community?

Mortal Kombat 9 made a conscious decision from the beginning to evolve the gameplay experience of nontraditional modes as a way of bringing extra value to the players, and to introduce fighting games to people who might otherwise not have played them in the past. Between the huge, seamless story mode, the hundreds of Challenge Tower missions, and the fun modes, such as Test Your Luck, we strived to extend the fighting experience.

The amazing reception from gamers has showed that all of the hard work and expense paid off. Implementing something like our story mode is an epic, costly undertaking representing a ton of work and risk for the team. We feel we owe it to our fans to provide an incredible experience beyond the standard fighting package.

Do you believe the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?

At NetherRealm, one of our core guiding principles is the importance of keeping things fresh and attracting new gamers to the genre. The core mechanics of a fighting game can provide endless entertainment, but the lack of accessibility and fresh content in the genre has certainly kept it from expanding to the same extent as shooters. This is why MK9 provided such a varied experience, and why we have even more ambitious aspirations to help grow the genre. Hopefully, other fighting games will pick up this torch and help challenge us to take things even further!

How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre?

The fighting genre has absolutely lagged behind others in terms of teaching players mechanics beyond individual moves. I think a lot of us who make fighting games take for granted the decades of assumed knowledge the advanced players have, and we really need to step up our game in terms of teaching core mechanics to new players as we attempt to expand the genre.

We started down this road in Mortal Kombat with Challenge Tower, which secretly taught players the game's core mechanics by using a bunch of fun missions that--at first glance--didn't have a direct connection to the actual fighting. That said, we definitely recognize the need to provide training for players, and we have big plans on this front for the future.

Why do fighting games need to evolve?

Much like with any genre, we run the risk of players finding our games to be stale, which not only would have an impact on the existing fan base, but would make it hard for us to capture new players. Call of Duty certainly shares the core mechanics that have been in place since Wolfenstein, but the overall package in terms of value and depth to the player has evolved to an amazing extent in the intervening decades. Fighting games, similarly, need to push the envelope with every release in terms of the overall package to ensure that players don't view a given franchise, or even the entire genre, as stale.

We are lucky in that millions of players around the world have enjoyed the release of every fighting game we have put out, and we owe it to them to constantly provide innovative new experiences and valuable features instead of rehashing the same game with a few tweaks for release after release.

Neidel Crisan, Founder, IPLAYWINNER

Why do people enjoy fighting games?

For various reasons. For players I feel it's mostly the competition and social aspect, but for viewers it can be a number of different reasons. Some spectators who aren't as skilled live vicariously through the players, while others it's less about the game and more about the personalities and drama.

How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games, are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games and/or their community?

I don't think they are that important, and at the end of the day they make the game feel bloated with unnecessary content. I think those same time and development resources should be focused on making better tutorial modes and more engaging story modes, which I think all players will appreciate.

That said, stand-alone games, such as Super Puzzle Fighter II: Turbo, that use characters from existing franchises I think are great. They let players who may not necessarily have an interest in fighting games at the time get more familiar with the characters. In the long run I think those same players will come around and give the actual fighting games a chance if they recognize the characters.

Do you believe the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?

At this point, due to online play and the overall level of interest, I don't think the genre will ever implode like it did in the past. However, I would say that it's currently plateauing.

As you stated, the games aren't doing enough to bring in new players. Mortal Kombat did a great job not only delivering a fighting game that is taken seriously in the competitive gaming space, but also offering a fantastic story mode that both the causal and hardcore can appreciate. I feel that games such as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 missed out on a huge opportunity to deliver something similar.

I also feel that if fighting games were more widely played on PC it would help bring in more players due to it being more accessible. Unfortunately, a PC release for these games is always up in the air, and even if they are released, the newest revisions usually don't show up on PC for months after the console release.

How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre, and should fighting games be responsible for teaching concepts such as cross-ups and option-selects?

I think a lot can be done to help teach new players how to pick up the game. An engrossing story mode that holds the hand of newer players, teaching them concepts such as the safest range to throw a projectile or the importance of anti-air attacks, would go a long way. Currently, there are some decent training and tutorial modes, but I have yet to see a fighting game with a tutorial mode that goes above and beyond what we're used to seeing.

Most fighting games follow a cycle of training and then playing competitively. Can a fighting game break this cycle and still be considered a fighting game? What will it take to realize the fighting game equivalent of a Portal or a Fallout 3?

Perhaps, but it's a huge risk to the developers and the publishers. I think if a lot of the issues we discussed above were already addressed, then we could have this conversation. There's still a ton of room for improvement with the games in the current form, so I don't see a need for any sort of "spin-off" games at this point.

Why do fighting games need to evolve?

To attract more players and keep the current players interested, though personally, by the end of 2012 I think there will be enough fighting games on the market to keep everyone entertained for a long time. Hopefully with the next wave of consoles we'll see some big advancements in the genre.

Katsuhiro Harada, Producer, Namco

Why do people enjoy fighting games?

Why do people play chess? Why do people compete in matches? Why do people fight at all? These are the bases for all games. You can't explain it in one word, but in the case of fighting games in particular, the process by which players learn how to control the character--and the sense of fulfillment they get the moment they first feel directly linked to their character and can start using strategies--is very similar to the process of learning and reaping the rewards of something in real life.

It's just one situation where happiness and pain go hand in hand. Fighting games allow you to experience the real-life event that all humans go through in a virtual world. In this system, the responses happening inside your brain aren't all that different from in real life.

When it comes to fighting games, aside from learning the controls, a lot of them require knowledge and experience. These kinds of games also require physical ability, like reflexes and mental prowess, to stay in control while under heat. There may be substantial gaps between players, but the fun and thrill that this process makes you feel is the highlight of the fighting game genre.

How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games, are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games and/or their community?

Whether or not something is "important" changes depending on the player's play style, values, and community surroundings. If a fighting game were only used as a fighting matchup tool, then these modes would not be necessary. However, drawing from previous examples, the gameplay available through Tekken Bowl and the Scenario Campaign has been widely supported by players. If it weren't, then the Tekken series obviously wouldn't have sold 40 million copies. At a glance, fighting games may seem like nothing more than a simple matchup tool, but that's actually a very narrow way of looking at them.

If a fighting game were only used as a fighting matchup tool, then these modes would not be necessary. However, the gameplay available through Tekken Bowl and the Scenario Campaign has been widely supported by players.

I see that to a certain group of players, it's not a matchup tool, but a fighting-action game, where they derive a lot of pleasure from freely controlling the character. Rather, our players place a lot of importance on watching themselves improve along with the character, as well as the world setting and story. At the same time, however, it would be wrong of me to say that these same players don't value the matchup tool aspect of the game at all, either.

Take people who purchase Ferraris and Lamborghinis, for example. They're not all necessarily speed freaks or would participate in time attacks or car races. They may just appreciate the fine leather seats, exterior beauty, the sound of the engine, or just the opportunity to control a vehicle with amazing horsepower. They're not necessarily looking to compete against someone, but may just want to take the car out for a spin on some mountain roads, maybe try a few tight corners.

The satisfaction they get from learning how and being able to handle the car is important. They're not just going to racetracks to get serious; they may enjoy a colorful stretch of street where they can stop by a cafe on the way. A lot of our players are like this. But you still can't take away speed from a racecar.

Of course, not all of these examples pertain to fighting games, but they do share some common components. Fighting isn't the only way that a character can be enjoyed. It takes more elements than that. It's through those suggestions gathered over time that we came up with various modes. And it takes time and resources to make it happen.

Personally, I'm a big fan of FPS games, and I play them a lot, but if FPS games were just specialized for matchup tools, then I wouldn't be playing them as much. I feel that the scenario campaign modes, zombie modes, etc. all provide vital gameplay. Likewise, it's no good not having competitive modes, where you can headshot your opponent in a few milliseconds, and tournaments. Thus, what seems like a completely different gameplay is actually connected on several facets. So, it's not about being necessary or not--this isn't something that can be whittled down to 1s or 0s. If that were the case, then we'd be asking if it's necessary for humans to play video games at all.

Do you believe the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?

Let me first say that I've heard this exact same question when I first started making fighting games 17 years ago from certain types of reporters and customers. And on that note, in the 20 years since Street Fighter II went to Dash and then to Turbo, that same question has been going around the industry. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm fed up with this question. I'm just stating a fact. It really isn't a recent question, because some people were already asking that just two years after the first fighting game was created. This question could really apply to any game genre out there, but moving on…

One thing I can say for now, in regards to Tekken, is that after 17 years, each title has continually sold approximately 40 million for the series. And it has the biggest market share of the versus-fighting genre. Its market is worldwide, with the most units sold in Europe. And this isn't talking about the good old days. This is currently happening. Compare that to the number of hardware installed base, and you'll see that Tekken has consistently sold over the past 17 years. It's not very often that you'll find a game that consistently sells into the millions with every title. Tekken even outperforms games that people think will do well. It's important to remember that the market is worldwide.

In regards to the arcade version, it has more proceeds than the console version, and in the past five years, it's routinely kept the number one rank over the course of a month among the video game genre. That's between 2006 and 2011. We're not talking about the '90s here.

If the genre is imploding, then it imploded a long time ago already. Of course, it's tough to say that it's increasing. After all, you could say that this genre has a preference for a constant layer (albeit the numbers are still high). I agree with your assessment that these games aren't doing enough to attract new players to the genre. I always have that fear inside me. That's why we're always trying to add new modes and systems to Tekken. As the earlier numbers prove, that's what helps Tekken continue to sell, and has successfully transitioned through two generations of players. Please don't forget that this is purely objective numerical data and facts. We're trying just as hard for the upcoming Tekken Tag Tournament 2, but I'll get into that more in your next question.

How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre, and should fighting games be responsible for teaching concepts such as cross-ups and option-selects?

I see it a little differently. If a fighting game teaches players individual moves and basic combos well enough, then players should be able to quickly move on to learning these "theories."

Take, for example, the young generation who are quick at learning individual moves and combos. They have faster reflexes and are more aggressive. Once this generation masters the basics of individual moves and combos, they quickly learn the theories by themselves. Once they understand that they can link to the characters and they see that they can do it, they move on to the next step: wanting the knowledge to help them win. They go out in search of information, try it out, fail, adjust, and experience this with many other players.

This is just one example with the young generation, but if you try applying it across a wider range of players, it's difficult to say that every group of players has that same desire for information and knowledge for winning. It's likely that the reason for this is that fighting games aren't effectively teaching the basics that come before theories to the players. These theories are the final push for players who have cleared the basics.

In order to successfully make players seriously consider these theories, it's first important for them to be able to control the character and feel linked to them. But while this is important, we know from our own research that there are many players who give up in the middle of the process of learning the basics.

In fact, close to 60 percent of players feel some degree of stress and frustration, and they lose their motivation to continue learning the basic controls. These players who give up think that if they can control the character freely, then they want to try using strategies, but they can't learn the controls.

That's where we came up with the entertaining game mode called Fight Lab in TTT2. The basic concept was to make a mode that's fun for both beginners and experts of Tekken. But we have a few ways to do this. As you know, Practice mode was first introduced to fighting games with Tekken 2, but this mode is no longer for beginners. It's for advanced and tournament-level players.

Then what about Tutorial mode? At first glance, it appears to be for beginners, but do you really think that beginners will think, "Well, I'm a beginner, so I'd better master the tutorial"? Wouldn't they simply skip the tutorial thinking, "I've played before," or "I'm pretty good at these kinds of game already"? Is the tutorial actually being used like it's supposed to by the players? This is where I have my doubts. To put it bluntly, tutorial modes aren't really that much fun. It's human nature to want to skip ahead after studying the basics and doing some physical training to jump into the real competition. Even I sometimes skip warm-up exercises and jump right into the pool. But that's when you realize you're not prepared.

To put it bluntly, tutorial modes aren't really that much fun. It's human nature to want to skip ahead after studying the basics and doing some physical training to jump into the real competition.

That's [why] we decided to rethink the concept of a tutorial.That's where we decided to rethink the concept of a tutorial. For example, I remember how a minigame like Tekken Bowl received the support from all sorts of gamers. Why, you ask? Because it was fun. Similarly, in Fight Lab, players can play all sorts of minigames in a story-driven setting. In the mode, the player must repair, teach, and raise a robot called Combot that was wrecked in the prologue and had its memory erased.

Some examples of the actions are dodging pieces of sushi that will come flying from offscreen, or tiny Kuma and Panda. Even as a simple action game, it looks fun and is reminiscent of a bonus stage of an action game from the past. And by the time you clear it, you've learned how to sidestep.

In another one, you have to punch Ganryu sumo wrestlers to make them inflate like a balloon from Tekken Bowl. The more you punch them in midair, the bigger they will inflate--until they pop! Sure it's amusing to see onscreen, but it's the perfect minigame for players to learn the concept of attacking in midair, and finding attacks that can effectively hit your opponent in midair.

Of course, that's not all. Once you clear the minigame and clear a chapter, the player earns customizable parts to alter the Combot's physical appearance. A list of the Combot's ultimate attacks also appears, from which the player can select a move to program into the robot's memory. Those of you with a strong imagination may have already figured this out, but by the time the player completes this mode, he'll have his very own original Combot--complete with its own unique appearance and attacks. For example, you can create an entirely new character that combines Paul's Smasher attack and King's Giant Swing attack!

In short, the original intention of this mode is to teach a Combot while playing fun minigames, but in the end the player is the one who learned! And that's not all. It's also a mode where you can create your own dream character. Advanced players may not need a tutorial mode, but in this mode, the minigames are fun, you can test your handle of the controls, and it serves as a measurement of your skills. Beyond that, it answers the dream of Tekken's core players for the ability to customize a character's moves, which can be done again and again.

Of course players can also bring their uniquely made Combot into online matches (this excludes Ranking Matches because you don't know what moves a Combot has, which would be unfair). You can have loads of fun fighting with it among your friends and test whose Combot is the strongest or best. That's how we're designing the Fight Lab to be both fun and important to both beginner and experienced players. If they can experience the fun of controlling a character and the process of improvement, then we can at least say that this would increase the number of players who can move to the next step.

Most fighting games follow a cycle of training and then playing competitively. Can a fighting game break this cycle and still be considered a fighting game? What will it take to realize the fighting game equivalent of a Portal or Fallout 3?

The basic gameplay of an FPS is to aim your crosshair--plain and simple. For that reason, if you're going to say that as long as you're aiming in first-person, then that makes an FPS, then your logic is right. But there are also people who recognize the strong puzzle elements of Portal, or that Fallout is practically an RPG. Coming from someone who has played high-end computer FPS games since the days of Doom, I can personally say that I don't think the FPS genre is strictly confined to competitive titles. Naturally, because the competitive element is summarized by the aiming element that I brought up earlier, the genre is very good at allowing anyone to play with minimal effort, and there was a time when everyone played for the competitive element.

But the competitiveness in an FPS is concentrated on the aiming, which is simple, thereby resulting in a lot of similar titles. The biggest change in FPS games was the addition of scenario campaign modes (story mode) that allowed players to feel and experience what they do in films and dramas. The presentation and story development, in the form of an interactive script system and engine, bolstered the genre, ultimately gaining the attention of a wider audience. If it weren't for that, then clearly we wouldn't have so many players playing them today.

It's doubtful that you can apply this same concept to all fighting games. The gameplay structure is completely different, as are the appealing elements. Tekken Force, Tekken Bowl, and Scenario Campaign just don't fit into the "cycle" you talk about. Besides, this cycle of gameplay varies to a degree from player to player. The difference in audience can be attributed to the hardcore aspects of fighting games. Players relentlessly fight for victory in individual matches where there is ultimately a loser. It's this kind of severity that makes those who choose this genre a little less widespread than FPS players.

The Tekken arcade systems in Japan, the rest of Asia, and Oceania are all connected to a system called Tekken Net. The player's cell phone, arcade cabinet, and game ID card are all linked, giving them a sense of competing on a team, rather than individual, asynchronous play, and moving towards different goals, in addition to playing individually. This isn't head-to-head gameplay like in tournaments or online. Of course we're trying to re-create something similar to this in the console version of TTT2, as well. Then again, as I mentioned in my earlier comments about racecars, you can't completely deny the competitive aspect, either.

Why do fighting games need to evolve?

This isn't exactly an answer, but it feels like you're asking this in order to prove a theory that you have. You seem to be asking this question with the assumption that we all have a sense that we need to evolve. I understand what you mean, and how you feel. In fact, I often have the same thoughts, too. Coming from someone with 17 years of fighting game development, the question I want to ask is, "Is evolution the same thing as change?" If a customer with expensive tastes said that he wanted to try a fine wine, I wouldn't hand him my favorite brand of tequila.

If you change the core element of a game, it may cease being a fighting game altogether. Some people may pop up claiming that this newly evolved form is the new face of fighting games, but then what is the definition of a fighting game? What is the definition of evolution? If our views differ on this, then of course we'll have vastly different answers.

Take Diablo III, for example. I'm eagerly anticipating the game's release, but if it turned into a casual jump-action game where players don't feel the fear of death, and the agonizing item-search element were reduced, then I'd consider it a disappointment. Fortunately, Diablo III hasn't altered its core gameplay, which is why I've already preordered it and am waiting for the release. As long as the core gameplay hasn't deviated severely and actually provides more enjoyment, then I would consider that evolution. What you seem to be asking is whether Tekken can reach out to casual gamers. I agree that it's a valid concern, one that we constantly face.

However, I can say this. The seriousness of one-on-one fighting and constant struggle to overcome loss, the fun of competition, and the pleasure, fame, and accomplishment that you gain after an arduous journey--the various emotions you go through during a fight is hard to find in other genres, and it's only achievable thanks to the above elements. This is really unique among fighting games. Such a rare genre exists in this world. You can recognize your own abilities through fighting games, and the lessons you learn you can't get elsewhere. It's different from passive entertainment. I think that we need this kind of genre.

I want people to experience this, which is similar to life. That's why we have to keep trying hard and evolving. So I hope that you take note of our efforts, what we're doing, and track record that backs it up.

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