With a silver tongue and an iron fist, fighting game luminaries share their thoughts on the current state of the genre and where it's heading.
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.