Fighting Games: The Depth Behind Their Fundamentals and Community
Down-forward Punch. Some read it as 2-3-6, referring to the keys on a number pad. Regardless of of someone’s experience with games in general, they’ve probably heard of the Hadouken and its input from the Street Fighter series. If they grew up playing the older games of the franchise, they might have been told about the move by an older sibling or a friend “whose uncle works for Capcom.” Despite their popularity in the mythical days of arcades and hidden button inputs, fighting games fell on hard times in the Western industry when realistic shooters and open world role-playing games hit the forefront of gaming. Nowadays, fighting games fit comfortably enough in their own niche, weaving in and out of mainstream culture with releases like Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat X, Super Smash Brothers, and the not-yet-released Street Fighter V.
Despite their second coming, fighting games have often been put to the side by some gamers in exchange for easier-to-enter genres like first-person shooters and role-playing games. Ironically enough, others look down on fighting games as plain button-mashers that are all flash and no substance, preferring other categories like real-time-strategy games and simulators. Sadly, like many older video game genres including platformers, fighting games suffer an issue of being misunderstood by the general gaming public despite efforts to make them more appealing; additions like character creation in Mortal Kombat series or guest characters like Darth Vader and Ezio Auditore De Firenze in Soulcaliber are fun for a few games at their best, and gimmicky at their worst. Although some games have been designed with beginners in mind like Super Smash Bros. and others have high barriers of entry and learning curves like Third Strike or Virtua Fighter, fighting games all share a general unifying depth in their gameplay. Concepts like yomi, zoning and combos are rewarding in their complexity and all come back to a central idea of understanding the world.
The Character Select Screen, Yomi and Mindgames: Understanding Yourself and Others
Unlike role-playing games where the gamer plays alone, or shooters and online games where one plays with a large group, fighting games focus on the two players facing each other. Nothing else matters and no one else can interfere – it’s player one versus player two. Like chess, fighting games are about making the right move at the right time. Should they block? Should they grab? Should they throw out their super combo and hope that they hit? The player must understand what their character can do – are they good at grappling? Striking? Projectiles? For beginners, this can be baffling – a grappling character like Zangief from Street Fighter has a different move set and play style compared to a simpler striking character like Ryu. However, this is reflective of understanding oneself – one’s limitations and strengths. The player must also understand what they can do behind the controller – do they have fast reflexes? Are they good at thinking ahead? When a character is picked, it’s based off of many, many factors and some of the most important ones lead back to playing to one’s strengths and covering one’s weaknesses.
In the fighting game community, the term “yomi” is used, meaning “to read” in Japanese. In this context, it represents reading the mind of the opponent. Many consider this to be what separates the good players from the bad – being able to understand how the opponent thinks and what they’ll do allows the player to prevent them from winning. Manipulation and mental conditioning for opponents is called “mind-games” in the fighting game community and are a part of yomi. In order to win, players can manipulate the reflexes and reactions of their opponents by conditioning them to react in a desired fashion. Maybe it’s a hard punch instead of a light one or an uppercut instead of a fireball. These seemingly-small differences can actually result in breaking an opponent’s confidence and by playing with this, players start to delve into the mental game. Manipulation of others as well as preventing the manipulations of oneself are vital if one wants to be successful at fighting games, compared to other games that rely solely on “twitch reflexes.” Sun Tzu said in the Art of War, “if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
Zoning, Space Management and Pressure: Learning to play the game of limits
In most fighting games, characters move in a single lane from a two-dimensional perspective. However, in series like Tekken or Virtua Fighter, characters fight in a 3-d dimensional plane and can move forward, back, up, down and in and out. Regardless of the dimension however, the concept of spacing and “zoning” comes into play. Spacing refers to the placement of the character on the screen – are they in the middle? The left and right sides? Understanding this is extremely important as they allow for players to accurately predict if they are in range of the enemy’s attacks or if they can physically hit their opponent. As different characters are designed with varying size and weight, the player must understand the limits of their character and play within those boundaries. Things like movement speed and jump height are also important as they limit the movement and ability to maintain spacing as well. This goes back to the idea of players needing to have a solid grasp of their character’s, and by extension, their own limits to win.
Another concept that comes with spacing is zoning and pressure. An initially hard concept for most beginners, zoning involves maintaining a certain level of pressure to maintain a dominant position on the opponent. This can be done with certain attacks and mind games to keep an opponent as limited as possible. As their options decrease, it becomes easier and easier to defeat them. Pressure in fighting games can show up in the game as well as in life – constant, in-your-face attacks and tactics on the virtual battlefield can force opponents to go on the defensive while the mental strain on a player behind the controller from being pushed so aggressively can result in errors in judgement and reaction. The knowledge of one’s limits as well as the understanding and ability to manipulate one’s environment are vital if one wants to be successful at fighting games. The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.
Combos, Hit Confirms, Cross-ups and Mix-ups: The Art of Knowing When and How to Hit
Although fighting games differ in art style, perspective and design, almost all of them involve combos in some way, shape or form. Asides from their obvious usage of doing more damage to an opponent, combos play a role in putting opponents under pressure. Some characters in fighting games are labelled as “rushdown” fighters, specialized for their ability for long and damaging combos and their ability to keep opponents on the defensive. Although combos can be effective and visually stunning, they demand not only dexterity from the player but a mental understanding of offense and defense; the strongest and most impressive combos are useless if they don’t manage to find their target. Hit-confirms are the solution to this: unique attacks that are usually at the beginning of combos, stun opponents and let players extend into a full combo or special attack. Learning the move sets and hit confirms of different characters gives players more offensive and defensive options and comes back to the idea of understanding oneself and others.
As many beginners to fighting games find out, it’s not enough to be able to do strong combos if they’re blocked in the first place. Going back to the idea of yomi and mind games, the usage of cross-ups, or hitting someone from behind to get around a guard, and mix-ups, or hitting someone from high, low or overhead, comes into play. Through yomi and an understanding of the opponent, attackers can figure out which angle to attack from while defenders can predict the best ways to block. These tactics can be used to get around an opponent’s defense and break them mentally – it’s usually when players think that they’re safe that they end up losing games. This loss results in their frustration, making them easier to beat and control. Other game genres like shooters don’t have the same mental depth and games that fighting games bring to the table; the better player is the one that can outplay the other – both physically and intellectually.
The Fighting Game Community: Friends and Family From Combat
In the end, the most distinguishing feature about fighting games compared to other genres is its extremely strong and diverse community and culture. Despite its niche status, fighting games are responsible for the growing e-sport scene all over the world with huge annual tournaments like EVO. Many players stream their games, offering support and entertainment, while many others like Maximillan Dood, Mike Ross and Gootecks devote themselves to making the FGC (Fighting Game Community) as accessible and informative to beginners through YouTube. The competitive nature of the genre creates rivalries and tales that go from the East to the West, bringing players together under one roof despite differences in race, culture and language; players speak a common language with their fists and their hearts, translated through arcade sticks and game controllers. Although the entry barrier is high, the fighting game community shows support for its beginners like none other and makes the journey of learning a fulfilling one through and through.
Despite mainstream misconceptions about fighting games and its community, the genre is alive and well. Fighting games present a strong mental game along with a high standard for physical execution, nerves and confidence. The games and the players themselves are complex puzzles to be solved, enjoyment coming from the thrill of success and the bonds of community. Fighting games let players feel smart, feel like they’ve outwitted opponents with their superior understanding of the game and the mind while the ones that fall always have the chance of redemption through training and practice. The call of “Ready? Fight!” brings people together through cheers and shouts, and at the forefront are the best players, driving the hype train to fight for the future.
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