Locked away in my Street Fighter IV account rests a handful of triumphant replays against online opponents. Watching this mini-highlight reel is a way to pat myself on the back--but it also has a lot to teach. Every dropped combo, fumbled defense, and unnecessary jump is played back for personal review. After receiving a bit of advice for Tekken Tag Tournament 2, I started thinking of how replay systems could be improved in modern fighting games and made into a more effective teaching tool. There's plenty of untapped potential here, and these are just a few suggestions.
Growing up, I never had the pleasure of bartering with strangers for bootleg tapes of "professional" Street Fighter II players. There were no clandestine meetings where briefcases of unmarked bills and unlabeled VHS tapes were slid across warehouse floors at gunpoint--I can only assume this is how it went down. Thankfully, in our modern society, quality replays are in abundance, if you know where to look. Locate the right Twitch channels or YouTube pages, and you will find a bevy of professional matches for (almost) any fighter.
These videos can teach us how to break our own bad habits, and exploit the habits of others.
Whether you are a beginner or a professional, the knowledge gleaned from these fights can be extremely valuable. When I sat down to review Tekken Tag Tournament 2, I had little knowledge of how most characters played. With a cast of over 40 characters, and movesets topping a hundred, it was intimidating to try someone new. Then I got a piece of advice from professional Tekken player Aris Bakhtanians in his article Iron Fist 101 Lesson 2: Game Plan that helped me wrap my head around these fighters:
"Having access to such a large number of moves can make move selection very difficult. The first solution to this problem is to watch matches featuring well known players of your character. When you watch these matches, look specifically for the moves that are being used the most."
The guide then advises making a list of common moves for your character, and learning those first. This may seem obvious to some, but it was news to me. For those more experienced, replay data is just as valuable. Throughout Shoryuken's Lost Strategy series I have seen numerous recommendations of "Record and watch your own matches" or "Watch how your opponent was defending your attacks." These videos can teach us how to break our own habits, and exploit the habits of others.
So, replays are important, but why not let the community handle their curation? That's because not everyone knows where to look, and even if they did, some simply won't make the effort. As with player education, fighting games themselves should be at the forefront of this service. Currently, results are mixed. Street Fighter IV and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 stand out by offering limited character-filtering options and by automatically logging personal replays. Others, such as Persona 4 Arena and Dead or Alive 5, just give you a single leaderboard to sort through on your own.
Across the genre there remains ample room for improvement, and these suggestions could transform a simple convince to an educational service for players of all skill levels.
Consider YogaFlame24's channel on YouTube. This channel is constantly updated with quality matches from Street Fighter IV, with notable players earning their own playlists with specific characters. If I'm looking for high-level matches for a specific character in Street Fighter IV, there's a long list of handpicked matches at my fingertips to study.
Imagine if that quality of curation were present within the games themselves. At the touch of a button you could call up a list of all current replays using that character, with recommended players highlighted for your convenience. Maybe you track a few of those players, and whenever they upload a new replay using a character you are interested in, that replay will be added to your personal list. The next time you fire up your machine, there's a customized list of content waiting for you.
Even something as simple as adding tags to individual replays would go a long way toward bringing some order to this system. Individual character tags would let you filter not only your preferred character, but also who that character fights against to help study matchups. And get creative with the tags. Individual character tags are a given, but how about "double KO" or "double perfect" tags? Calling up a list of matches where the victor won with only a sliver of health would be very entertaining.
Going a step further, consider the possibilities of uploading clips from replays. Let's say you have a 30-second clip of a new combo you built for JACK-6 in Tekken Tag Tournament 2. You tag it as such, and when other players search using that tag, they find it and dozens more like it. Group those clips together, and you have a dynamic, crowd-sourced combo video. Refresh the search, and an entirely new one could be generated.
Of course, who wants to spend their time video editing in a fighting game? Solution: have the game generate these clips automatically. Have a system that can detect combos from a single player over a certain number of hits and break them out automatically as the replays are uploaded (I make it sound so easy). Filtering for combo length could be a great way to find popular bread-and-butter combos or to study the popular tactics of the day.
Having some sort of community spotlight feature would also be a plus. Professional players gather on a weekly basis to duke it out across the country in tournaments and exhibition events. Let's incorporate some of that data into the service. Get some tournament replays up there, and design replay data packets so that they can be easily transferred from one account to another. At the very least, the EVO finals should have its own tab. Many developers have already shown interest in supporting the community, and this would be a great extension of that service.
At the very least, additional uploading options would be nice to have. Make it easier for players to get their replays from the machine and onto YouTube without having to go through a capture kit. This would lead to more quality information from an already active and dedicated community. Knowledge--not just of what your fighter is capable of, but of what the rest of the cast can do--is vital in any fighting game. An improved replay system can support this. It will enable players to better educate themselves by packing information that is already available in more organized, and creative, ways. Replay support may seem like just another ancillary detail, but it can help unlock the talent hidden in its viewers.