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.


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 jubdeidamasta

This makes me want to play some TTT2 or maybe SF3s.

Avatar image for SgtStrungOut

Well they have been doing a POOR job. All these new fighters are casual gamer noob friendly. Reason I love King of Fighters 13, Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting and Soul Calibur 4 is that it is punishing to new gamers. I wreck kids who think that they are good just cuz they can do decent on the newer fighters. You should not be able to win against a better online opponent. Soul Calibur 5 sucked! MK9, MvC3, TTT2, are all noob friendly.

Avatar image for swafflong64

@SgtStrungOut To get more people interested in the genre, they kind of have to be noob friendly. I play 3rd strike and mvc2 so I know how much easier those older fighters are. The reason why so many people couldn't get into third strike because it was so hard. That kind of stuff turns off new players. Basically, they have to be easier for new people to actually play their game and for it to sell better.

Avatar image for megakick

@swafflong64 @SgtStrungOut Well it is a lot easier to push a button to parry and counter then to time it right and maybe parry but if you don't u you leave yourself open for a combo...

Avatar image for GlaciusXL

I love that picture of King and Paul Pheonix. Hahaha that's THE move in Tekken I hate with a passion. One of my friends will play as Paul, have rage + counter hit and half my energy bar depletes before my eyes in one quick move and every time I'm like "MY GOD!!!!! That's ridiculous!" then I yell at him and kick his ass. Ah, good times. :D

Avatar image for TheZanmato

I want to see games like Tekken and SoulCalibur :D I just love them :D

Avatar image for istuffedsunny

I liked that DOA4 displayed online character popularity and win ratio... Of course they removed the feature for DOA5 :/

Avatar image for 00LiteYear

I want to see more Marvel vs. Capcom type games. Gameplay that is fast, moves that are flashy, and about 50 characters.

Avatar image for Downloadpilot

Gotta give it up, Maxwell, you're articles are some of the best on this site, consistently.

That said, this is very fascinating. I suppose companies really ARE listening to their customers, however indirectly.

Avatar image for badwedgie00

If Hollywood creates another live-action Dead or Alive, I'd like to see Sarah Bryant played by Taylor Swift.

Avatar image for badwedgie00

@Egotte Pardon my ignorance here, but is FTW an acronym for F*** that woman? And are you talking about Dead or Alive 5 when you mention that?

Avatar image for Downloadpilot

@badwedgie00 @Egotte Err... actually, it just means For The Win. Do YOU want to F*** That Woman? lol

Avatar image for oOhedzOo

How can you call a match fair if all the players do is send the other player flying into the air and play volleyball with them?!

In Tekken that is called a combo! I'm just happy not all the games depend on air combos in their games. Luckily games like Soul Calibur happened to be one of the games that doesn't encourage that and I would like to see more.

Avatar image for Stardust7

@oOhedzOo You said everything I think :) ....Tekken Air combos sucks....and It's a shame because I like tekken characters and Tekken replay value is too much better than VF and DOA ...but DOA and VF gameplay mechanics seem to be light-years from Tekken I think Tekken need to change gameplay ...while VF and DOA need to add more replay value ( Fighting modes ,tournament , customizations etc )...

Avatar image for chad28_69

@oOhedzOo that's why each time you hit someone you do less damage and the character goes further way reaching a place that the other character can't hit him

Avatar image for oOhedzOo

@chad28_69 @oOhedzOo I noticed that, but by then the other have lost 3/4 of his health. I'm just frustrated of how games like Tekken VF and DOA make their combos too long (letting alone chain attacks) and there is no way to counter act them like executing an ultimate attack or a combo breaker that sucks energy from your energy bar or some air blocks.

I have seen many solutions like that in many games. I say more moves and less combos. Add styles. add weapons just don't make chain attacks to avoid these problems. Just an opinion.

Avatar image for BradBurns

@chipwithdip @oOhedzOo @chad28_69

Well, to be completely fair here, both TTT2 and DOA5 aren't in the same league in game balance as VF5. They all play similarly, admittedly, but both DOA and Tekken tend to allow some craziness that Virtua Fighter wouldn't.

The only thing that really hurts Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is the tiers. Some characters can really fly off the handle (Jin, Jun, Anna, Nina, etc) when teamed up with one another.

Tekken's answer for this seems to be to over power most characters in one way or another, which is an odd solution. But hey, it's fun, so whatever.

(Also, did anyone notice how homogeneous the character selection online can be? Everyone online seems to use Asuka and Jun. It's a bit off-putting. I'm tired of fighting them..there are a lot more character to choose ya cheapskates!)

Avatar image for SauhlGood

@oOhedzOo a fine balance few games achieve, people were mad with similar things happening in Killer Instinct games, some didnt realize how to avoid or execute combo-breakers, there is no such mechanic in tekken as i understand(very lil of tekken) so your at the mercy of somebodys ability to execute a chain of commands, VF and DOA follow same mechanics, so its not just tekken but some institute a form of diminished returns on juggles. But in SF making a narrow window for execution of an advanced mechanic leads to people in the mid-low range of skill level in the game perceiving it as a oversight, instead of unrefined use of available skills... as was the case in SF3-3rd strike in most NA arcades, and now even most SF4 players dont know how to focus cancel into combos.

Avatar image for oOhedzOo

@SauhlGood Agree, SF definitely was one of these games that works perfectly but that is because they chose to make it simple. With only 2 directions to move, jump to avoid and air blocks and few moves for each player makes it easy to handle. However, Tekken, SC, VF and DOA are more complex in their mechanics after introducing the 3d direction.

Avatar image for moodyfoo

dead or alive vs virtua i the only one who dreams about this?

Avatar image for megakick

@moodyfoo Its the only 3D game that actually works. SF x Tekken is just weird either franchise has to give up there mechanic to make the other franchise fit in their franchise. Tekken is too choppy and programmed button combo dependant to fit in either DOA or VF. Nobody in RL would actually fight like they fight in Tekken:/

Avatar image for moodyfoo

@megakick i played SF x Tekken and it just didn't do it for me. btw in doa 5 there are characters from virtua fighter and it fits rather well imo

Avatar image for majere613

There's a world federation of Tekken players? WTF?

I'll get me coat.

Avatar image for bongsyas_23

Clay Fighters was the best fighting game ever made

Avatar image for badwedgie00

@bongsyas_23 My favorites back then were SF2, Fatal Fury, and Samurai Showdown. I also wasted alot of quarters on World Heroes as well. There was also Darkstalkers, and Martial Champions!

Avatar image for jsmoke03

@bongsyas_23 really? there were a lot of great 2d fighters back then and thats what you thought was the best?

Avatar image for megakick

@jsmoke03 @bongsyas_23 KOF or SFII

Avatar image for RSM-HQ

Can never say no to a decent fighter, Tekken Tag 2 is simply an incredible game :)

Avatar image for King9999

Interesting article! I didn't know devs collected this kind of data. I would like to see a file containing this stuff. I'm sure this data is used to determine future updates. When they see that certain characters don't get used much, they could buff them based on the information collected.

Avatar image for gf61

@King9999 Actually every time you connect (XBL), data is collected.

Avatar image for amir_g_m

Latest Mortal Kombat game is the best fighting game I have ever played. The "Ultimate M VS C" is very low lever comparing to Mortal Kombat. However Tekken can be compared because it really has great graphcis and the fighting mode is very similiar to Mortal Kombat's .

Injustice is bad!!! played the demo and the full game... it's not even close to the quality of The Art Of Fighting of MK's

Avatar image for OniLordAsmodeus


Injustice is bad? MK9 is awesome, Injustice is just different.

Avatar image for RSM-HQ

@amir_g_m The rebooted Mortal Kombat is the first time I enjoyed the series, and though Ermac and Kung Lao are broken beyond belief, it was a good fun ride. I hope Mortal Kombat fanbase are happy with how the series is moving forward, and hope it continues that way.

With that said. Tekken Tag 2 is likely my favourite fighter this generation, followed by the original Street Fighter 4. Skull Girls was also surprisingly fun :)

Avatar image for marius068

Still angry that you cant play Goro in mk9

Avatar image for zico_mahilary

watched the whole video hoping grundy would finally get to thrash someone... totally worth it... hate that brighty- tightypants

Avatar image for DuaIFace

So THIS is why every fighter has had online tacked onto it these last 7 years? For telemetry data? LOL I'm still glad that I don't put myself through the torture of playing ANY fighters online. That shit would be pathetic. But the truth of the matter finally coming out (in not so many words) is pretty comical to me.

Avatar image for RSM-HQ

@DuaIFace Fighting games are built around multiplayer, so online multiplayer modes make perfect sense. Off course for the most part local versus beats mid to low connection lag anyday XD

Avatar image for CombatIT

I just want a new Bushido Blade!

Avatar image for saoe

Shut up and give us Tekken 7 no tag team bs!

Avatar image for RSM-HQ

@saoe Tag 2 was a brilliant game so I don't understand the hate :S

Avatar image for King9999

@RSM-HQ @saoe Not to mention being off-topic.

Avatar image for wondernova

When it comes to fighting games, there are only two franchises that matter to purist. VIRTUA FIGHTER and BLAZBLUE. Games where the mechanics are present from the start.

Avatar image for jhcho2


You best not go down that road. There are an equal number of fighting game fans of each respective franchise say exactly the same thing about their favorite franchise. And regarding mechanics, Blazblue is a very recent game. Are you seriously comparing something that came out in 2008 with other fighting games which all came out either in the 80s or 90s? And are you saying that Virtua Fighter 1 had more of a mechanic than say...Tekken 1?

Avatar image for wondernova

@jhcho2 @wondernova There would not be a Tekken if it wasn't for Virtua Fighter! Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy playing Tekken and Street Fighter. But the level of depth in say Virtua Fighter 2 for example is astonishing. 15 years later I'm still mastering Lion. As for Blazblue, I understand where you are coming from. But after constant Ryu and Sagat spammers online, being introduced to the world of BlazBlue, was a welcomed relief. I have never looked back. Plus, Capcom are a bunch of money hungry whores!

Avatar image for RSM-HQ

@jhcho2 @wondernova Fighting game wars are no different than console wars, it's down to choice. Tekken was always my 3D fighter that I personally enjoyed most, with Street Fighter being my favorite 2D fighter.

Just like what you play, keep playing, and support the developers :)

Avatar image for majere613

@RSM-HQ @jhcho2 @wondernova And leave us DOA fans alone :P

Avatar image for brian_13un

@wondernova BlazBlue is really great along with Guilty Gear and P4A :)

Avatar image for megakick

@brian_13un @wondernova Tekken is so choppy and not fun at all...