How the Fight Creates the Fighter

Learn how three fighting game developers are using the data you create to help design, balance, and perfect the art of fighting.

138 Comments

In the competitive, fast-paced world of fighting games, no choice is without consequence. Your attacks, and the skill with which you wield them, could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Each of these choices creates a bit of telemetry data, information that has another life after the dust settles. Whether it is recorded in a humble notebook or in a massive data farm, this data is being analyzed to help shape the future of your favorite fighting game series.

Katsuhiro Harada, producer at Namco Bandai Games (Tekken Tag Tournament 2); Adam Urbano, senior producer at NetherRealm Studios (Injustice: Gods Among Us); and the team at Namco Bandai Games' Project Soul (SoulCalibur V) explain how they make sense of your telemetry data.

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What exactly is telemetry data? In the realm of video games, telemetry data refers to the highly granular player data generated the moment you start a game. The recorded information varies between development teams, but it can range from the order in which you play different game modes to the number of times an attack is used. For fighting games, statistics such as character popularity, frequency of throws, damage from combos, and more can be invaluable when designing future updates.

"I could tell you in all the online one-vs.-one matches how many people choose Nightwing, and when they do choose Nightwing, how many times they use a specific move and how many times that move is blocked by the opponent," Urbano explained. "The amount of depth we can go into to make the game perfect, in terms of the gameplay experience, is crazy!"

This data can come from a variety of sources. Focus groups and questionnaires used to be the go-to choices, but modern advances in connectivity have made it possible to expand these test audiences globally. For Urbano and Harada, that means developing in-depth data-mining programs that collect, catalog, and upload every input from every available player to a central database--anonymously, of course. In the case of online matches, telemetry data is stored locally until the match is finished so that no bandwidth is lost.

However, not everyone places their faith in raw numbers. As Project Soul explained, the data fails to capture what is most important: the human element. "We know that companies like to collect and analyze data through mining methods, but we chose not to do that for [SoulCalibur V]. We consider 'data' as nothing but a list of numbers that fails to represent players' passions and emotions during matches. We derive our conclusions from fighting game tournaments and match videos uploaded to online sites such as YouTube. There is no better reference for us than getting a close look at players actually fighting."

"We consider 'data' as nothing but a list of numbers that fails to represent players' passions and emotions during matches. We derive our conclusions from fighting game tournaments and online match videos."
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That's not to say Harada and Urbano turn a blind eye to the videos fans post online. Seeing a game in action is just as important as seeing it on a spreadsheet, and as Harada explained, the two sources complement each other. "By comparing the claims that part of the users mention out loud on the Internet with objective data, we can determine if that claim is reasonable or not. We believe what's important is that telemetry data represents only part of the feedback we consider. Human beings analyze with logic but determine by emotion at the last call, so [Tekken] wouldn't be a satisfactory game using logic alone."

The uses for telemetry data extend to other aspects of development as well. For Urbano's team, the telemetry system in Mortal Kombat's also controls when the player receives certain unlocks and rewards, since the game can detect individual actions. "Another great example is story mode," he added. "We looked at how many people completed each chapter in MK's story mode, and we saw sharp curves at specific points. We investigated those points, and it was clear they were at those ridiculously hard fights. So with Injustice, we designed a fight curve that helps people complete story mode."

A lack of hard data hasn't stopped Project Soul from trying new ideas with game balance and special attacks. "We believe the most important data is players' reaction and if they are having fun. If there is an attack that deals a lot of damage but players never use it, we cannot consider it a strong attack. Conversely, players can view an attack that deals a small amount of damage as a strong attack if they really enjoy using it. Therefore, it is important to watch actual matches with our own eyes."

"For SoulCalibur V, the game designers attended the tournaments and watched the streaming videos to analyze and discuss in depth how players' emotion was up and down, and how well each attack can be combined to make combos. After that, we implemented the adjustment tentatively in-game and decided whether to implement it in the product after our sufficient examination."

While these developers enjoy the breadth and depth of information provided in the digital age, collecting that information hasn't always been so simple. "When Soul Edge was released in 1996, the creators could collect player feedback by going to arcades or giving out questionnaire postcards," said Project Soul. "The basics have not changed, but the Internet allows players from all over the world to upload or stream their matches. That increase in data has given the development team more information to draw from than ever before and helped achieve a solid balance for SCV."

"We believe it's important that telemetry data represents only part of the feedback we consider. Human beings analyze with logic but determine by emotion at the last call, so [Tekken] wouldn't be satisfactory using logic alone."

Harada is used to doing the legwork and visiting arcades, or at times requesting they fax him information. "Actually, we have been collecting simplified telemetry data from the first arcade Tekken," he said. "However, at that time, it was mostly just the character usage rates. We started taking a little more detailed data, including the win/loss data, starting in 1997 with the arcade version of Tekken 3."

"The arcades at that time were not connected to an online network, so the only way to look at this data was by flipping the test switch on each arcade board to view the collected information. Furthermore, and this information is not known yet, we knew a very difficult, hidden move that, when entered, let us secretly look at the more detailed data than the information collected from the test switch on the board. This information is something that I'm actually revealing for the very first time. We have been doing these things since 1997, but we did have the idea of collecting telemetry data as far back as 1995."

During the development of Mortal Kombat, Urbano was a one-man data-mining operation. However, the volumes of data were extremely difficult to sort through, and finding specific information could easily become an all-day affair. "We learned to have two separate buckets of data: the terabytes of detailed moves and inputs data that we can analyze to fix moves (but is harder to navigate through), and a second bucket that's just data we know we'll need on demand, such as infinities, exploits, and online desynchronization. That second bucket is full of quick data, just a hundred or so items, so that a report can be generated quickly."

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Telemetry data has been a powerful tool for fighting game developers, and many believe the next step is sharing that data with the fans. "It'll be cool going forward to find ways to integrate that data so that the user can experience it," Urbano said. "In MK, we had a website that displayed a lot of player stats, but I don't think most people knew it existed. We need to figure out how to utilize this data to create new and exciting experiences for the user. There are a million ways to do it, and I think what Namco is doing with the World Tekken Federation is really cool."

The WTF gives players a virtual business card filled with stats on how they play. These cards can be shared with others to see how your fighting styles compare. "Since it was the first time in the world a fighting game tried this kind of service, it was perceived well," said Harada. "Until now, it was normal for a Tekken player not to know what kind of player their opponent is until they fight. Recent feedback from the players has requested we disclose even more detailed data."

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Avatar image for badwedgie00
badwedgie00

Anyone here old enough to remember Sega's "Eternal Champions" game? That one had a very huge, very diverse roster of characters for its time. I'd like to see it come back in Tekken's image, with HD graphics and even more moves, styles, and backstories.

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RSM-HQ

@badwedgie00 Anyone hear old enough to remember Ultimate Body Blows by Team 17? Terrible game xD but looked stunning.

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majere613

@RSM-HQ @badwedgie00 Guilty as charged- and you're quite right, it was and it did!

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CombatIT

@badwedgie00 Wasn't that game insanely hard to beat?


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BradBurns

@badwedgie00

Those games aren't that old.


I'm barely out of my teens, and I know many who are still in their teens that played those games. Eternal Champions was .. interesting, I'll give you that.

Avatar image for badwedgie00
badwedgie00

@BradBurns @badwedgie00 I'm turning 40 this year, and I played Eternal Champions on Sega CD when I was 20. Back then the Sega CD was a great game system. Now I have all those games on ROMS.

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SoreThumbsBill

@BradBurns

I use Final Burn Alpha and a Hori RAP Premium stick. My favorite Capcom CPS2 fighters look better than the original arcade machine!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xfG8vAcDL8

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@badwedgie00 @BradBurns

Roms are never as good as the original. You're actually lucky you got to play all of those games back when they were still new.

Now all you have are busted roms and emulators and awful hd ports that work as hard as they can to kill the soul of the original thing on crappy LCD's with the worlds dullest blacks.

I may be young, but I'm also a Sega die hard. I fought a German man on the German Ebay for a brand new copy of Final Fight for my Sega CD, dammit! And I'm not even German!

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shnull

@badwedgie00 no but i'm so ancient i remember the way of the exploding fist on the commodore, does that count ?

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Chronologo

@badwedgie00 I do, the finishing moves were pretty awesome but hard to pull off. There was also a sega CD version that came with some cinematics and an extra character

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DMason001

I dig the feature Maxwell. I hope my favorite gaming genre keeps getting better as time goes on. I fear the worst for Virtua Fighter, sales wise. Hopefully Sega keeps it alive through the years by better targeting the home console market. It would seem ever since the coin-ops went south VF's popularity has gone with it.

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King9999

@DMason001 Sega had a large VF tourney last weekend in the US, and they're going to have another one in Europe. VF isn't dead!

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BradBurns

@DMason001

Well, do you mean a decline in popularity in the west?

To be honest, I don't think that Virtua Fighter was ever popular over here, we've only ever gotten the late console ports. Most of the real Virtua Fighter scene is over in Japan, where it is (as far as I know) as popular as ever.

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majere613

@BradBurns @DMason001 OTOH, Sarah, Pai and Akira decamped to DOA5, where Akira looks like a human being again! :)

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badwedgie00

Let me say that just because a game is "deep", does not necessarily make it fun to play. Street Fighter is easily the most shallow out there, but many people find it fun to play Capcom's beat-em-up offerings. By contrast, Virtua Fighter is as deep as Capcom is shallow, but not many people think it is fun to play. When I played the first Virtua Fighter game on the PS2, taking the advice of Gamespot's 9.2 rating, I did not think it was a fun exercise at all. In my opinion, it was downright boring. I will, however, try it out again because Virtua Fighter 5 is only $4.99 used at the local Gamestop, and also because I'm willing to give it another chance just so I can see how "deep" it is. I am of the opinion that the Tekken series is by far the best out there--huge roster, plenty of easily-chained moves, customizable, many different fighting styles, mildly interesting/boring backstories, beautiful graphics, easy to pick up for both button mashers and digital warriors.

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2bitSmOkEy

@badwedgie00 It's common knowledge that VF is the hardest and most complex fighter out there, but that doesn't mean SF is somehow shallow. Besides, if the game was so simple then how come there is a player by the ID Infiltration that wins practically every major event, and does so looking utterly invincible.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMK_mPsag9g

Avatar image for badwedgie00
badwedgie00

@2bitSmOkEy @badwedgie00 I'm saying it is simple in its mechanics compared to the likes of Virtua Fighter.

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RSM-HQ

@badwedgie00 Fun depends on personal taste.

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King9999

@badwedgie00 If you're going to get VF, get Final Showdown.

Avatar image for FaeLKuN
FaeLKuN

@badwedgie00 You think Street Fighter is shallow? That's because you don't watch Daigo playing...

Virtua Fighter and Tekken are a different kind of fighting game compared to Street Fighter. Both kinds have their own merits, calling them 'shallow' is a poor judgment. Fighting games like Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm series are really shallow...

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DMason001

@badwedgie00 I have more 'fun' with VF than SF.

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Ten_Tigers

Science making video games better? Wow! Whod'a thunk it?

Avatar image for badwedgie00
badwedgie00

I can't believe some people here actually remember Battle Arena Toshinden. I had some great fun with that game when it first came out on the PS1. Why not have a fighting game featuring every character from Tekken, Dead or Alive, and Virtua Fighter? The entire roster alone would fill the screen! I'd also like to see a new Soul Calibur game that adds the entire roster of Battle Arena Toshinden to its already sizable coterie. I'm imagining that either type of the crossovers I just mentioned would utilize the entire capacity of that BD-ROM. Now, that would be a game worth my $60, since I always buy them used at the local Gamestop for less than $20.

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ahpuck

@badwedgie00 Battle Arena Toshinden was awesome. Do you remember Star Gladiator/Plasma Sword? That game was so good, too bad Capcom hasn't touched that series for many years now.

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DMason001

@badwedgie00 It's not easy getting everyone's discrete game play systems working together for one game. The closest 3D fighter offering I remember came in the form of Sega Saturn's Fighters Megamix.

Avatar image for KaSeRRoR
KaSeRRoR

What-chall know about Battle Arena Toshinden series! VERY overlooked! Tekken will always be the BEST fighting series OF ALL TIME! BEST fight mechanics, awesome controls, and replay value OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD!

>=)

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BingDaDream

Ironically enough these developers are considered 2-3 and 4 in terms of fighting games and their role in the community. Capcom is actually considered number 1. Why not showcase SFxTekken's update?

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BradBurns

@BingDaDream

Probably because Capcom is also notoriously mean-spirited towards its own fanbase and couldn't be bothered to comment.

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megakick

None of those game are even fun to play... Have more fun playing DOA, SF and VF.

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BingDaDream

@BradBurns @BingDaDream That's not entirely fair to say because Seth Killian was able to talk to people before and so does Ono. Capcom isn't as mean spirited as people think. They're more money hungry than anything.

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BradBurns

@BingDaDream @BradBurns

Well, by calculated, I meant that every move they make seems to be totally financial without fail. It all seems to be about squeezing every last nickle and dime out of their fan base.

I understand that its a business, but do they have to make it so obvious? (lol)

Like that weird move where they canned Mega Man Legends 3 for no reason. I mean, I understand that the fan base wasn't showing enough interest, but their reputation was starting to go down the drain a little before that. What would it have costed them to have shipped it and taken the (small) financial loss in order to restore their fan's faith in them?

Sega does that kind of crazy sh!t all the time, can't Capcom do it once?

That's just something that's always bothered me about them.

Avatar image for BingDaDream
BingDaDream

@BradBurns @BingDaDream Idk about calculated. They seem out of touch with certain organizations, however there are people in place to observe what the fighting community is saying and doing. If anything the Capcom community is the biggest and most devoted fanbase there is.

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@BingDaDream @BradBurns

That's true.

But they just seem so shrewd and calculated to me, I don't know..

Even Ono doesn't like the way they work. He said that for all of the success of Street Fighter 4 and what it did to the fighting game industry, they haven't really promoted him at all. He said that all they give him is more work. And didn't Seth leave Capcom, or am I wrong?

I don't know, maybe I'm just riding the hate train.

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slimskelter

Spent so much time with friends playing Tekken, Soul Blade/Calibur, Mortal Kombat, watching the losing controller being passed around the room.

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

Very well written.


I honestly didn't think this sort of stuff was being analysed that far back. Or at least not in that depth.

I also loved the bit about Harada confessing to having more data shown than he previously let on.

Thanks Maxwell McGee, this made my day.