It took a while, but I finally got the chance to play the Street Fighter V beta… and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. But this did a little bit more than get me back into the mood for playing fighting games- it got me thinking about them as well.
One of my favourite topics is the concept of the “Execution tax”. This isn’t a concept I will waste too much time describing or analyzing, because it has been thoroughly discussed here and here. Both links are recommended reading, by the way. So I’ll just go straight to the question I asked myself – as far as execution requirements in fighting games go, just how much is too much?
And how much is too little.
One idea I’ve been toying around with is the proposition that the less random the game is, the tighter and better it becomes.
Now, it’s important to note that I don’t mean to say that randomness, in itself is a bad thing. There are many ways that the random nature of, for example, a shuffled pile of cards or a dice roll when used in a damage calculation, enhance games and introduce an element of drama and unpredictability that makes them even more fun. But one area where randomness is certainly not usually welcome- is with regards to controls.
Imagine a fighting game where, if you pressed a button to execute a normal move, you had a 20% chance of executing a slow overhead, and an 80% chance of executing a fast low attack. Sounds like a controller malfunction, doesn’t it?
Well, as Remy indicates roughly halfway through this article, this is essentially what happens when the execution tax of a command is too high. For the most difficult of commands, even top tier players are unable to execute the correct move 100% of the time, with missed execution resulting in one of a random set of unintended execution failures. Tension and “hype” can push this percentage even further down, meaning that the more crucial it is to execute the correct move, the less favourable the random chance of generating the intended move becomes.
This is even worse for players who have not spent hours practicing their one frame links.
So what do we do then- solve the problem by making the commands easy right? How about we make all commands a single button press. Then you have a 100% chance of executing the intended command at any given time. If you lose, you have nothing to blame but your poor decision making. Problem solved, correct?
Some developers seem to think so. However, I’m not so sure. Having played a number of fighting games in so called “easy mode” with one button moves, and having played (and admittedly enjoyed, in so far as one can enjoy games about Fisher Price robots) the open beta of “Rising Thunder”, I’ve found myself being less than satisfied that this alone is anything more than simply a step in the right direction, as opposed to the desired end goal. And this is because of a different kind of randomness.
How many times have you randomly mashed on a number of buttons, seen something amazing happen on screen in a fighting game, and said “oh, I intended to do that!”, when, in actual fact, you didn’t? If your answer is “more than a few times”, you are probably aware that regardless of how much fun it is for you, it probably isn’t for the opponent. Many salty opponents of Eddy Gordo players on Tekken 3 will agree. Overly simple controls open the game up to a different kind of randomness- the sort where it becomes far too easy to execute an unexpected move, undermining the test of strategy, tactics and prediction that makes a fighting game a worthwhile competition.
An execution tax solves this, by forcing a player to “prove” that a move was actually intended, and not a fluke. By requiring the player to pass a small execution test, simple enough to be executed correctly 100% of the time when intended, but complicated enough to rarely occur as the result of random inputs- this form of randomness can be mitigated.
I like to imagine a kind of “sweet spot” for execution. Something neither too hard nor too simple. These are things that I hope a game such as Street fighter V, or Rising Thunder may be able to achieve. So how do we know when this has been achieved?
When flukes and drops can no longer be blamed for our losses- maybe then.