Friday, February 22, 2008

Balancing ST - A New Game

As most fighting game enthusiasts are aware, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo is being redrawn in full HD sprites, thanks to Udon Entertainment of Street Fighter comic fame. Included in this are two games - Classic ST and the new rebalanced Remix mode. This mode aims to make an already tremendously balanced game become even more so, along with giving the 17 fighters (Akuma included) new toys to play with. David Sirlin, accomplished competitor and tournament organizer of the Evolution International Fighting Game Championships, is leading the programming team that will make the gameplay changes and has given a substantial amount of information to the fighting game community regarding those changes. His main goal is to leave the top tier alone, give some new toys to the mid tier and boost the low tier as much as possible while still making the game fun. While I completely disagree with this mindset, what this does is give gamers a new Street Fighter 2 game - the 6th or 7th game in the series (Depending 0n if you counted HSF2 as title in the series).

One of the first changes announced regarding gameplay tweaks to specific character pertained to Ryu. By adding a fake fireball to Ryu's arsenal, Sirlin believes Ryu will still be a powerful high tier character while having more options in match ups that give him trouble, such as Sim. As a Ryu player, I recognize that Ryu is one of the most perfect characters in ST - he has no weaknesses, has a great fireball and anti-air and has one of the best supers in the game. He isn't top tier, but he doesn't need to be to win tournaments; looking at tiers and trying to balance a game as such is simply ignorant of a more important factor to game balance - match ups. Ryu has few bad match ups and even those are completely winnable. In the Sim match up, Ryu has to completely rely on UmeShoryu (Psychic Dragon Punch) in order to punish Sim's limbs. This becomes a very intense match for Ryu because there is tremendous risk in whiffing a DP. The match is far from unwinnable and many great Ryu players (John Choi, Daigo Umehara, ShootingD) have won finals against top Sim players. Giving Ryu the fake fireball takes away the fun intensity of the match and makes Sim play even more carefully. Sim players look for the fireball animation as a hint to punish, but if Ryu has a fake fireball, Sim will never take that chance. Also, as Zass pointed out in his blog, if Ryu's fake FB builds meter, the game has become Third Strike. ST is known for aggressive gameplay, not turtling in a corner to gain meter. While the latter is a viable option, it is rarely used as the best defense is a good offense in ST. Building meter through a fake FB makes Ryu's gameplan very boring, as part of his strategy is landing his super. The magic of a great Ryu player is utilizing a great mix-up plan in order to have meter to land super, which will no longer be there if Ryu can sit in a corner and gain meter all day.

The fake FB not only makes the match against Sim less fun, but also will destroy other characters who already have a difficult time around projectiles, specifically E.Honda. In that match up, any awake ryu player can shut down the best Honda players. While it is said Honda will get new tools, it is unlikely he will be able to compete against a fake FB. What this illuminates is the idea that every fighting game is a Jenga puzzle - changing one thing could make the product as a whole collapse. As Sirlin stated he wanted to make a "new" game, it quickly became apparent that this new game could be less balanced than Classic ST. The intent is there, but the procedure I think is wrong. If you want to look for a very intelligent way of balancing ST, click here to view Zass's post regarding the subject.

There is still a divide among the SF2 hardfore fans about the changes being made. While I tend to be on the side of "leave the game alone," I think the issue becomes a difference in goals between the gamers and the developers. Many people who do want changes made to ST desire a better game - ST has been competitively played for 14 years, a record no other fighting game has and is proof that ST is an astounding game of wit, strategy and execution. The game is not without fault, however, so it seems understandable to make changes to it. The super reversal glitch for Ken, Sim and Sagat; randomness in damage and combo execution; certain character match ups, etc. These aspects deserve to be addressed and from this gamer's opinion, are the only changes needed to be made to an otherwise perfect fighting game. David Sirlin would beg to differ.

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