Monday, November 12, 2007

Rebalanced mode and fake fireballs

I'd like to comment a bit on the decision to give ryu a fake fireball in ST rebalanced mode.

Before I start, I want to say that I disagree with the premise of how capcom/backbone is choosing to address the rebalancing. As they mentioned in the first blog post

My goal is to buff up the worst characters so they reach the middle (or upper middle at best). Next, buff the middle characters slightly, but not so much that they become top tier. And finally, leave the top tier characters intact.

I don't disagree with the idea that power levels need to change. What I do disagree with is keeping the top tier intact, and "buffing up" so that lower and mid tier characters are higher in power.

As I mentioned before, I think that the way to do it is to keep the "core" tier intact, and bring the power levels closer together by slightly reducing the power of the top tier characters, so that they are still very good, but missing the really broken stuff, and then buffing up the low tier slightly.

I think the core tier characters are:

Ryu and Guile especially stand out to me as examples of excellent design. They are both extremely strong in the best hands, but no one would call them the best characters. They are the epitome of skill rewarding play. Players that win tournaments with ryu or guile are just plain good.

I think it's a much better design decision to keep these core characters they way they are, and bring the rest around them. You actually end up changing fewer characters this way: In both systems, you have to help the lowest tier. However, in the "keep the core" system(that I am a proponent of), you only have to bring the top tier down, which is four characters (Claw, Dhalsim, Boxer, and Sagat). On the other hand, in the "buff people up" system, you have to bring the entire middle tier up. Since the middle tier is much larger than the top tier, you touch more characters.

The other reason I think that the "buff up" system is wrong is highlighted in this quote from David Sirlin:

Also, as I said when I rebalanced Puzzle Fighter, we already know what the game felt like with the previous top tier characters, and it was fun, so it’s better to balance the game around that power level than a new, lower power level.

As I mentioned on, I don't think that the game at the top tier is nearly as fun as the game at the mid-tier!

I completely disagree with Toodle's position of "never nerf". Why? As a vega player, I can tell you that I've beaten very very good players with repeated wall dives. I don't think this is a fun part of the game. In fact, I've played the Japanese system of soft banning Vega and O Sagat, and you know what? The game was much more fun. And it was more fun because I didn't have to play or play against these idiotic, repeatable traps.

Chun li vs Guile is a fun, intense matchup. Every pixel of spacing matters. There's countless decisions to make. Do I block his jab sonic boom? Do I jump straight up over it? Should I try to trade with a low forward, or will he anticipate that with a backfist?
I haven't seen that kind of depth in most fights that involve O Sagat and Vega. Vega *can* be played in a powerful, complex, and dominating way, but the easiest way to just win is to do wall dives. Similarly with O Sagat's tiger shots.

I think it's high time to remove these kinds of moves. I want more fights like Chun li vs Guile, Zangief vs Hawk, Ryu vs Ken, and Dictator vs DeeJay. Those are fun, stimulating, and exciting fights. There's books to write on those fights.

I want to give Dhalsim, Claw, and O Sagat a chance to have those fights too. Getting rid of those extremely specific and abuseable moves is a great way to keep the inherent power and complexity of the character without destroying the entire game ecosystem they reside in.

The mid tier's fights are more exciting, more deep, and reward decision making better than the fights at the top tier. Changing the mid-tier is dangerous, because you risk losing those great mid-tier fights that I think really define the game.

So that said, I disagree that Ryu should be given any changes, because I think Ryu and his core compatriots are perfect as is.

That said, that is a disagreement with the premise of the change, which is the "buff up" system. I disagree with the "buff up" system, and I think the right call is the "keep the core" system, for the reasons above.

However, I'd still like to discuss the change in Ryu given the "buff up" system. So even though I disagree with the "buff up" system, I want to put aside that fact for now, and discuss what Ryu's change will do in the context of that system.

In this context, I think Ryu's fake fireball will make him stronger. This is hard to evaluate without context, because I don't know how other characters have been changed. Since I don't have that information, I have to think of how the normal ST characters would be affected. This would make Ryu more powerful at mid range, and especially more powerful in the corner. It would be even more difficult for characters like Honda, Chun Li, Dicatator, and Ken to get out of his corner traps.

There is one thing that I think is an absolute must. Ryu's fake fireball should not give him super meter. One doesn't have to look any further than SF3 to see why. SF3 is a game dominated by running away and charging meter. Players are rewarded by not interacting with their opponents, and instead doing safe moves repeatedly that charge up their meter. Once they have it, they approach their opponent.

Ryu already has one of the safest meter building moves in the game, with his jumping back hurricane kick. This is a move that at least forces Ryu to give up a resource, his position relative to the corner. But if the fake fireball built meter, Ryu would have a way to charge meter that would (presumably) be impossible to punish at mid range (if it was possible to punish at mid range, you might as well do a normal fireball, and the move would not be very useful). This would completely change Ryu's dynamic. Ryu players would have a huge incentive to do fake fireballs to charge meter, at which point they have one of the best supercombos in the game at their disposal. It would greatly sadden me to see one of the pinnacles of character design be overshadowed by a meter building strategy.

No meter for fake fireballs.