Thursday, June 16, 2011

Random forums posts worth mentioning

Gaming forums are ... strange beasts. A source for trolling for some, a source of QQ for others and a source of entertainment and knowledge for those willing to seek out the information they desire. I am not a big forum poster. Probably the most posts I have ever made was on the old WoW forum boards years ago, and that number of posts probably wouldn't exceed ten in the years that I used to play that game. Generally speaking, unless I have something insightful or meaningful to say, posting on forums is not really worth my time.

However, about a month ago, one of the two Escapist forum posts I have ever made was selected as being a 'Letter to the Editor'. I'm not really sure what that means, but basically it was selected because it was apparently a good post with something interesting being said. I thought this was rather unusual and amusing considering the thousands of posts a site like that would receive a day, let alone a week. That either says something really bad about the average forum poster, or maybe I just got lucky and posted something meaningful when someone high up was looking. It's not really important.

What is important was the context of the post, in reply to Yahtzee's article about action not being finisher porn in fighting and action games. It was a follow up to his review on Mortal Kombat, a review where I think he kind of missed the point of the game. Nevertheless, after reading through the posts of the articles associated forum, I became slightly irritated at the complete disregard for how the concept was being seen from a competitive standpoint. As I have always been in support of competitive gaming I made the following reply:

"I feel something that should be mentioned here is how these over-the-top powerful moves/combos tie into the competitive fighting game scene, and how infrequently they are actually used. Besides MvC3, attempting to get off these sort of moves is incredibly risky and are not of great priority. Most of the time they are blocked or whiff (miss) as competitive players are so very used to avoiding them or anticipating them in the first place.

From a casual point of view (I am a casual myself), fighting games may seem like they are entirely about these super/hyper/ultra/X-ray moves. You see them in all the trailers and there is so much emphasis on them in the media. Really though, these moves form a very small part of a fighting game's actual mechanics and should be seen as merely a catchup option if someone is getting owned. A competitive player is more likely to burn their super/xray bar through enhanced attacks then leaving the whole thing for said move, mainly because it is more advantageous for them to do so. The sparring or 'footsies' of a fighting game is what a competitive player is focusing on 90% of the time. Should said 'footsies' allow them a small window of opportunity to properly place one of these special moves, then great! If you watch enough tournament videos you will know that it is THIS that entertains and awes the crowd, not the special move itself. This is because at the competitive level, successfully getting off one of these moves is not easy. It is incredibly hard.

I guess what I am trying to say is that people are probably looking at these moves the wrong way and thinking of them in the wrong light. Yes, for the casual beating up his friend who doesn't know how to block these moves can get boring and probably pull the action away for both of them. But for two people who are actually fighting competitively, getting these moves off are significant, difficult and highly entertaining.


Also, fatalities are nothing more than glorified finishing moves. You don't have to do them. Anyone complaining about how they are forcing unnecessary gore porn down your throat is just silly.

- TinmanX"

I'm sure no one actually read the post, being the typical forum readers that everyone is, so I didn't think much about it at the time. The truth is though that using fighting games as a benchmark for game play analysis is a useful tool, not just because of the competitive community that surrounds them, but also the amount of tweaking and balance changes necessary to make them competitive. Unlike most games (save maybe a Blizzard RTS), fighting games must undergo serious stress tests to find bugs, exploits and generally overpowered moves and characters that could break the game. This is because patching a console game is a little more tricky than patching a PC game, and releasing a broken product straight off the bat is never a good idea for a game that is purely competitive. The process is however never entirely foolproof.

I only just realised this comparative strength when reading another fellow's opinion on Vladimir in League of Legends. Vladimir, as of writing this, is still seen to be an incredibly powerful champion, overly powerful in fact, by most of the community, including the competitive scene where he is either consistently played or banned. Ironically he also used a fighting game (SF4) to get his point across, and to me (at least) he makes a good point about character balance and the community's perception of it:

"Vlad players take the term "Vlad is OP" as a personal attack, and the ones who scream it just got rolled by said Vlad, it's the same way people think Morde/Trynd/Xin/whoever just facerolled them are OP. The problem with Vlad is, has been stated before, tournament results are obvious signs that something is wrong.

I can bring up other games in this arguement. Lets see Sagat from the original SF4, that.

That was OP.

However, at the same time people claimed the blanka ball strategy to be OP.

People complained about both, and due to a lot of QQ about such things as the blanka ball strat and the Bison headstomp strat, people treated it the same, until in high level play it became apparent, and people still tried to treat it the same (However once you completely bypass the skill-level and enter the most controlled "control group" you can get, scientifically speaking, the results don't lie.)

The difference being Sagats chip damage and fast recovery times, mixed with ease of use turned out to be a global issue, seeing as someone SPAMMING Tiger Shots actually beat Daigo. (Anyone who follows fighting games/evo tournies knows the epicness that is the Daigo.)

This Vlad issue is very similar. Sagat, in SSF4, got his chip damage nerfed and his recovery time lowered. He is still INCREDIBLY viable but not as easily picked up as before.

Blanka however, WAS a case of people just not understanding the mechanics as you didn't see someone go to top tier in a tournament using that strategy, yet lower level players still claimed it was overpowered.

... I feel I trailed off at the end there, but you should get the gist of it.

SF4 = Sagat
LoL = Vlad
Sagat = Vlad = Something is truly wrong

SF4 = Blanka
LoL = Morde
Blanka = Morde = People simply don't understand enough to counter it yet
(Also the irony of Morde es #1 and Blanka being from brazil is hilarious.)"

- Krimlin

I'm sure we could use many other games or scenarios to explain the same kind of balance relationship, but he makes a fair point. Often I see people complain about things in games being overpowered, cheap or just unfair. Most of the time this can be traced back to a lack of understanding on how certain mechanics work. In the case of League of Legends, most characters that may seem incredibly powerful for newcomers become standard problems later down the track when a player becomes more experienced. For example, Mordekaiser can be nuked, CCed or just simply ignored, with no real escape options at his disposal. Tyrndamere is slightly more complex, but a combination of well timed CC, ignites and general teamwork can shut one down very easily. Karthus' Ult can be countered by having decent support, MR items (Banshee's, Hexdrinker) or generally just not playing like shit. Be wary of Teemo's and Shaco's popping in and out of bushes with low health: a hoard of traps await you. True stealth characters are even easier, providing you have the gold to afford an appropriate ward or elixir. The list goes on...

I guess my point at the end of all this is that everything in gaming, from what people perceive to be unfair, to things in games that they feel are unnecessary, has a different side of the coin which can usually be garnered via experience or just general understanding. So the next time you want to cry aimbot at that ridiculous sniper in Quake, cheap to the invincible 2-shotting Tyrndamere in LoL or think your most recent kill in any game is a result of you being better than them, think about the situation and see if your point of view could in fact be wrong.

... unless it's a Vladimir.

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