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.

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

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."
No Caption Provided

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."

No Caption Provided

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."

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Join the conversation
There are 138 comments about this story
138 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for 9dodo9
9dodo9

DOA team:

"What do our fans like?"

"Our latest eye tracking data seems to show that players tend to focus on Kasumi's chest area."

"Lets make some DLC that focuses on the chest areas of our female characters!"

A few months later: Buy the latest DOA DLC! Beach wear for all your favorite characters for only 7.99$!

Avatar image for ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

@9dodo9 I wonder how many people that dismiss Dead Or Alive have actually played it, or at least the latest one. Game is REALLY fun and really good to play.

I'm not saying you are wrong, it's not like there aren't over 50 dollars worth of virtual bikinis for sale on PSN and XBL. On one hand, people can spent their money on whatever they want, and if they want to buy bikinis, then more power to them. On the other hand, it surely devalues the game in the eyes of the general public and limits its reach, and hence its audience and players.

Avatar image for badwedgie00
badwedgie00

@ivan_osorio @9dodo9 I just wish that we were given the ability to customize a character, or even create our own in DOA5 like Soul Calibur has.

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@ivan_osorio

Well, it's kind of been an inside joke of mine that DOA is lazy with it's customization options. I'm not really referring to the game, its said more in jest.

Oddly, the only explanation I could come up with as to why they haven't ever bothered with the feature is exactly what you said, they probably don't feel its necessary for the reasons you provided. (Strange that we both came to the same conclusions independently, I swear I said that exact same thing to my roommate once)

However, ask the fanbase and you may get a different opinion. lol

Avatar image for ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

Late reply, sorry.

I think it's because DOA is famous for the characters themselves, so they probably don't see customization as a deal-breaker. In the mind of the marketing (I can only assume, of course), people are buying DOA to play as Tina, Helena, Kasumi, etc. Not to play the game itself, but play the characters. I really can't agree with calling the game lazy because of it though, since the provided costumes (both standard and unlockables) are really great and in general pretty varied (aside a few characters like Brad Wong which appears to have just 2 costumes with color swaps for a total of 5 costumes). Don't get me wrong, I would really enjoy some level of customization in DOA, specially if it is more in the line of SoulCalibur, where you are not so much customizing an existing character from the roster, but creating a new one all together based on one of the game's archetypes. I can't honestly say I MISS the feature though. I haven't actually thought about how it would be before we started talking. I guess I just like the way the characters are and don't feel the need for more options.

However, I'm a die hard Tekken 6 fan. Beisdes really liking the fight engine (despite sucking at it), I spent ungodly amounts of time on collecting items and spending money on the in-game shops to customize my favorite characters. I have no doubt I will become addicted to TTT2 once it reaches my hands.. Maybe by the end of the year...

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@ivan_osorio @badwedgie00 @9dodo9

That's one thing I truly detest about DOA 5, it's damn lazy.

How can you ship a fighter with no customization options in this day and age? Are we going to pretend that Virtua Fighter Evo never happened and made character customization standard for the genre?

I suggest you buy TTT2, if that's your thing, it allows you to do almost anything with your character.

Avatar image for ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

@badwedgie00 @ivan_osorio @9dodo9 I haven't played the latest SC, but 4 had pretty good customization, Tekken as well. I really wish DOA would have implement something similar as well... It would have made it the ultimate fighting game for me.

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@ivan_osorio @9dodo9


I actually disagree with that popular notion that DOA alienates its audience.


Growing up, most of the people who I saw playing those fighters around me were actually the girls, not the boys. Most boys found the game's art style unappealing and "Barbie looking" with it's emphasis on fashion and clean-cut Ken-like males. The girls also seemed to enjoy its pickup-and-playability.


Weird, eh?

Avatar image for DMason001
DMason001

@BradBurns @ivan_osorio DOA5 is great. I've always felt that the series has never gotten enough respect from fighting communities. It's does have a detailed combat system that competes with the best of them.

DOA5+ is a good port. The exclusive training exercises are invaluable to learning the game play system better. Unfortunately they ditched the tag mode.

Avatar image for ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

@BradBurns @ivan_osorio Vita does allow for cross-play with PS3. There are some limitations I think, I can never seem to register fighters or save replays when fighting against people with a Vita, but those are not things I would do most of the time anyway, so no huge loss. Just thought I might mention.

Avatar image for ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

@badwedgie00 @ivan_osorio Yes, but you can Tech Roll pretty easily out of floor grabs (I think). I haven't played Tina much, but I know she is fun as hell to play. Many options, and really good game if you can read your opponent and bait + punish.

I main Hitomi and do some Helena. Both are fun as hell for me, but I'm not any good in the game, I just think its loads of fun. I'm in the process of trying to learn some Kokoro. Good times.

Avatar image for badwedgie00
badwedgie00

@ivan_osorio I enjoy playing DOA with either Tina or Bayman. If I'm close enough to the opponent when they've been floored, I can pick them up for a throw combo and put them down again. You can repeat this several times so long as you can keep them on the ground because while they're on the ground there is no counter.

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@ivan_osorio @BradBurns


lol Aren't we all?

I was going to buy DOA5 for the Vita (It's a damn good looking port for a handheld).

I mean, I suppose it would give me something to play on that useless bump on a log.

I think it also allows you to play with PS3 users, which is great. And I'll look into that guide when I get it.

Avatar image for ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

@BradBurns @ivan_osorio I think you will really enjoy DOA. Just make sure to read up on the triangle system if you decide to get it. It is not really the most obvious thing. IGN has a GREAT guide on the whole game.

TTT2 looks like a blast. I'm eager to play it as soon as price drops a little. I'm a cheap bastard :(

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@ivan_osorio

I was just bringing that up because it's a charge that is often leveled against the game.

And I don't feel that both sides of the argument are often shown.

I was looking into DOA5 earlier this year, but I'm really enjoying TTT2 at the moment. Oh, who am I kidding, I'll probably end up buying it anyway. My TTT2 play might suffer, though.

Avatar image for ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

@BradBurns @ivan_osorio @9dodo9 Weird indeed. But I only ever played DOA5 and I think it is a FANTASTIC game. They have dealt with the barbie-looking thing, and the game is just a blast to play. Really cool stages and lots of character variety. The fighting mechanics are also really solid and engaging. As someone who knows how to fight in real life, I really enjoy the concept of the offensive-defense. There is nothing quite like winning a Perfect match with a Hi-Counter Hold. Definitely recommend it. It's free for PS+ Europe if you have access to it (which is also extremely worth it on its own. Hitman Absolution next month!).

Avatar image for ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

Not that player feedback and balancing aren't important, but the majority of us are not competitive gamers and care more about a fun game than a perfectly-balanced game. I know very few people that could grab a game and call it "unbalanced" and actually mean, justify said call. I know A LOT of people that can call several fighting games boring as shit. With reason.

You go to boards and every character is broken for whatever reason. Everything is unbalanced, everything needs fixing one way or the other. People b*tch.

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@ivan_osorio

I get'cha.

I love playing Tekken, but I wouldn't really take it to be well balanced. On the other hand, I would definitely call Virtua Fighter balanced, without hesitation. Then why is it that I can't stop playing Tekken? It's good fun, with enough balance to get it by.

Avatar image for AndrewII
AndrewII

Anyone who has been around the arcade scene, let alone the fighting game scene would tell you from firsthand experience that the collection of data is nothing new hence the reason why before a game is fully released into the arcades a location test is done...the puropose being the fact so they can get feedback on bugs/glitches and other gameplay issues.

Look at Soul Calibur III for example...no arcade release, let alone location test and for this reason the game had tons of gameplay issues and due to the lack of player scrutineering. Not only this, but this problem plagued the previous SC games..no arcade release/location test and for that reason no type of rational scrutineering could be done for those games.

In as someone who religiously play fighting games, I'm very worried about fighting games are not getting arcade releases(not just because it hurt what little of the arcade scene is left) because we end up with a condition of developers are releasing fighting games shipped with bad gameplay issues as in the case of the past 3 SC titles.




Avatar image for MONEYMUFFINS
MONEYMUFFINS

@AndrewII I JUST REALIZED YOU IMPLIED THAT THE FIRST TWO SC GAMES ARE BALANCED. THAT IS ONLY TRUE IF YOU COMPLETELY OVERLOOK THE FACT THAT SIDESTEP WAS FUNDAMENTALLY BROKEN IN SC1 AND SC2. YOU COULD SIDESTEP NEARLY ALL HORIZONTALS!


SC1 AND SC2 HAD OKAY CHARACTER BALANCE, BUT THE SYSTEM MECHANICS WERE A JOKE. SC5 IS THE BEST COMBINATION OF BOTH BALANCES.

Avatar image for MONEYMUFFINS
MONEYMUFFINS

@AndrewII YOU'RE TOTALLY WRONG. SC5 IS THE BEST ONE IN THE SERIES OVERALL. DO SOME RESEARCH AND TESTING.

Avatar image for Halloll
Halloll

also bigger boobs.

Avatar image for dragonkantus
dragonkantus

humm i see..

Avatar image for Ghostdog201
Ghostdog201

@TokD831 Needs moar 'free'.

Avatar image for DMND
DMND

I too blame the games when I suck at them. Those bastards...

Avatar image for R2C25
R2C25

VF 2, VF 5, Killer Instinct for Snes and MK3.

Avatar image for sargentpsgamer
sargentpsgamer

I'm guessing button smashing doesn't help this data at all? haha

Avatar image for badwedgie00
badwedgie00

@sargentpsgamer Neither does a column written by a person who isn't very interested in fighting games.

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@badwedgie00 @sargentpsgamer

You don't have to be particularly good at fighters, or even play them very often to appreciate them.

Until recently I would rarely play them at all, yet I bought most of them because of the simple fun you could have mashing away at 'em.

It wasn't until recently that I started diving into the dark world of frame data and tier lists. That can be alienating to newcomers.

Maxwell has to take a newcomers perspective into account too, not just the jaded buttholes of the world.

Avatar image for King9999
King9999

@ivan_osorio The reason why games based on anime are so bad is BECAUSE they're made only for fans of the anime, rather than fans of fighting games in general. I hope that makes sense. If you review a game based only on its accuracy to the source material rather than whether it's a good game or not, you're doing both yourself and your readers a disservice.

I don't think it's right to say that people who aren't into Naruto aren't going to play a Naruto game. I'm not the biggest fan of DBZ, but I greatly enjoyed Budokai 3 for its combat engine. Interest in MLP was very high before it got canned, and this interest came from people who didn't care for MLP.

Bottom line is, if a fighting game has solid mechanics, it will get played.

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@ivan_osorio

This is a difficult subject because what you're saying is totally true, as is my statement.

Where does the truth lie?

Fighters are always better with a broader player base, but if the game itself isn't appealing to the veterans then it's pointless. Hmm..

Avatar image for ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

@BradBurns While true, I also think he has to think who the game is trying to please. I see you have a Naruto-themed avatar. Most Naruto games are rated average because they are rated for the average costumer. Which makes NO freaking sense. People that don't enjoy Naruto are not going to go even remotely near a Naruto game. Why should the review be catered to them?

Fighting games are more or less the same thing, I believe. The have an audience, people can try them if they want, more power to them, but MOST fighters don't seem all that interested in gathering new audience, and you can't really fault them for that.

Avatar image for ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

@badwedgie00 @sargentpsgamer I would REALLY like to know if Maxwell is really simply not interested in fighting games and therefore can't see what is interesting about them, what they need; or if he does like fighting games but just doesn't get it. Maybe he is not good at it, maybe he would like to see games made more accessible to the general audience... God only knows, since he appears to think most fighting games are just north of "alright".

Avatar image for eva02langley
eva02langley

Nothing come close to Virtua Fighter 5 FInal Showdown for balance and online mode.

Easily the deepest and most complex fighting game out there.

Little advice to devs, stop nerfing characters and tweaking the game, it sux! Thanks Capcom for your mess with SSF4.

Online
Avatar image for MONEYMUFFINS
MONEYMUFFINS

SOULCALIBUR V IS THE BEST 3D FIGHTER EVER MADE. IT HAS THE MOST BALANCED SYSTEM MECHANICS AND CHARACTER BALANCE. IT IS OVERALL THE MOST INTELLIGENTLY DESIGNED. TOO BAD MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3 IS LIKE THE MCDONALD'S OF FIGHTING GAMES.

Avatar image for MONEYMUFFINS
MONEYMUFFINS

HYPE IS OVERRATED. IT'S ALL ABOUT THINKING, JUST LIKE CHESS. BESIDES, WHY SHOULD SOMEONE BE PLAYING FOR A CROWD? **** YOU, I AM PLAYING TO BEAT YOU. I DON'T CARE WHO'S WATCHING. THAT'S WHY IT'S A 1-ON-1 FIGHTING GAME.

Avatar image for 2bitSmOkEy
2bitSmOkEy

@MONEYMUFFINS eh? SSF4 is an amazing competitive fighting game.

Final Fight finals were sick.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9RvEdTwE4c

That double KO....

Avatar image for sagejonathan
sagejonathan

@MONEYMUFFINS SCV is great but Marvel is WAY more hype.

Avatar image for Ghostdog201
Ghostdog201

@MONEYMUFFINS All caps pwns mixed case!

Avatar image for USAPATRIOT21
USAPATRIOT21

@MONEYMUFFINS I love Marvel vs. Capcom 3. And I love the 1 dollar sweet teas from the Mcdonalds menu. And I love caps lock.

Avatar image for USAPATRIOT21
USAPATRIOT21

They need to balance jigglypuff for Smash Bros on the Nintendo 64. He is way too weak and his sing attack is too hard to land.

Avatar image for BradBurns
BradBurns

@USAPATRIOT21

(!)

She! She!

HER move set was way too weak and HER sing attack was too hard to land!


Avatar image for MJ12-Conspiracy
MJ12-Conspiracy

Some of us who aren't the best at fighters but enjoy some of the games like Soul Calibur, Injustice and MK...if you balance the game by how people play what then when the lesser skilled players are done and all that remain is the pro gamers? it means the next entry will cater to the pros and not so much to fans and casual fighting game players so then the game becomes a turn off...

Avatar image for MONEYMUFFINS
MONEYMUFFINS

@MJ12-Conspiracy SC NEEDS TO INCLUDE MORE TUTORIALS AND EXPLANATIONS ON HOW TO PLAY PROPERLY. IF IT DOES, "CATERING TO PROS" WILL BE IRRELEVANT. ALSO, PEOPLE WHO DON'T CARE ABOUT LEARNING HAPPEN TO HAVE FUN ANYWAY BECAUSE SC IS MASHER-FRIENDLY.

Avatar image for H4num4n
H4num4n

Tekken and SC were never balanced. Don'r make me laugh.

Avatar image for sargentpsgamer
sargentpsgamer

@H4num4n Friggin hate Tekkan. I always randomly play it, and get totally owned by one combo lol

Avatar image for MONEYMUFFINS
MONEYMUFFINS

@H4num4n TEKKEN IS A JOKE. SC5 IS STARTING TO MAKE SENSE.

Avatar image for 2bitSmOkEy
2bitSmOkEy

This is a dangerous way to "balance" a game. Relying heavily on playerbase data to balance a game can absolutely butcher the fun of it all. It won't take long before you've "balanced" the game so much that it's just not nearly as fun to play. Not to mention no game could ever be perfectly balanced, it's just not possible. Fun first, balance second. Just my 2 cents.

Avatar image for simplesurf7
simplesurf7

@2bitSmOkEy I agree. While I do enjoy a good combo, I think too much emphasis is placed on them in current games. I had a chance to play some of the old-old-school "the karate tournament" style fighters- where more emphasis was placed on finding and scoring solid hits. Gameplay wise, some aged pretty well.

I watch youtube videos of the newest fighters and it's 2 or 3 super long combos and the match is over.

Avatar image for Jyakotu
Jyakotu

@2bitSmOkEy Yeah, because Marvel vs Capcom 2/UMvC3 are the most unbalanced fighting games known to man, but its their brokenness that makes them (sort of) fun.

Avatar image for BingDaDream
BingDaDream

@Jyakotu @2bitSmOkEy McC2 is all types of broken, but UMvC3 isn't. There are a number of characters that are played with instead of it just being Storm, Magneto, Sentinel. Look at the community.