Watching Fighting Games Like A Pro


Posted June 20, 2012 - By Cassandra Khaw

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Mortal Kombat: Ed Boon Tells Us The Story Behind The Game

To the untrained eye, fighting games like Mortal Kombat and SoulCalibur can often seem like little more than a cacophony of exposed flesh, pyrotechnics, and incomprehensible catch phrases. According to professional Street Fighter player Arturo Sanchez, however, there's a science to all of eSport's redheaded stepchildren.

When we met up backstage at MLG Anaheim 2012, Sanchez, who is also now MLG's Fighting Game Director, was taking a break from the production line. In front of us, sharply dressed shout-casters were narrating every wince-inducing blow traded by the players in a Mortal Kombat match.

"It's ... a little different from Street Fighter, isn't it?" I said, clumsily, feeling every bit the fighting game neonate that I was.

That was what got the ball rolling. Within moments, we were discussing the little things that made up the games on the MLG Pro Circuit, the subtleties that help the experienced differentiate between an irrevocable loss and a possible comeback.

With Mortal Kombat, a fighting game franchise probably best known for its riotous love for gore, it looks like a match can be determined even before the players press 'start'. "One of the first things you should probably look out for is character archetypes. There are a few different styles in Mortal Kombat. One that is considered most effective is the zoning style. Zoning, in fighting games, basically means filling up the screen with a bunch of junk. It's kinda like creating an obstacle course for the other guy to get around. There are also rush-down characters who excel at doing a huge amount of melee damage, but who also must get up into your face and characters like Scarlet, who are good at doing both."

This, in turn, was important because not all characters are built equal. "Mortal Kombat is a very counter-pick heavy game. There's at least twenty plus characters in it and it's also very match-up dependent in a 'Character A beats Character B beats Character C' sort of way. If two good players go up against one another and one runs into an bad match-up, there's not much that he can do."

Mortal Kombat

Sanchez went on to illustrate his point by making an example of Kabal and Sub-Zero. "Kabal, while capable of rush downs, is also a very zoning happy character. He has instant-air fireballs that fill up, like, half of the screen horizontally."

"Now, projectiles and attacks do not trade. If both players do an attack at the same time, one side will win every time - " He continued.

"Wait. Side advantage?" In an industry dominated by a demand for equal playing fields, a natural superiority determined by a choice of controllers seemed odd.

"Yeah. There's Player 1 advantage. They always have an advantage if they do an attack at the same time. For example, there are a lot of attacks that are the same in Mortal Kombat; every character has an uppercut, a quick reaching jab. However, some uppercuts are faster than others. There was even some frame data released and the community found out that Player 1 will win every time." Sanchez explained.

With a shrug, he added. "There's definitely a side advantage to it, something that's not new to fighting games. In fighting games, some combos work for Player 1 only while some combos only work for Player 2. It just so happens that in Mortal Kombat, it works like this: when you do two moves at the same time, Player 1 wins."

I nodded, a little nonplussed even as Sanchez resumed.

"Thus, if you're covering an entire horizontal area of space, certain characters who are most effective at a horizontal space are going to get shut down. Sub-Zero is a good example of this. Since he's mostly zoning and defensive, he gets a lot of his damage through people getting reckless and running into stuff, something that gets negated in a Sub-Zero/Kabal line-up. In such a situation, Sub-Zero, who has a very slow walk speed, is forced to come forward and, well, you can imagine."

Asides from disadvantageous match-ups, was there anything else that the newbie enthusiast should remember while viewing a match? "The meter. You can tell if someone's in trouble in the game when they're under 50% and have no meter whatsoever for a super. If they don't have sufficient meter, they won't be able to break a combo - it costs a player 2/3rd of their entire super meter to do something like that. Once they've burned that bar, they won't be able to stop the other guy's offense. If a player doesn't have a meter, the only way that he's going to be able to come back in a big way is if he goes on the offense with a block streak."

Another nod. As a grotesquely grinning Mileena made short work of her opponent, the conversation migrated to the next game: SoulCalibur.

SoulCalibur 5

"3D games are a very different beast compared to 2D games." Sanchez began. On the screen, the hulking Nightmare was slowly herding his slightly built opponent towards the edge of the stage. "Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter are similar in the sense that space control is very important. The projectile's a good example of this. Because those games function on a 2D axis, players are forced to deal with a thrown projectile by either blocking it, jumping over or taking a hit. Now, in 3D games, while there are projectiles, things function more along the lines of an 8-way axis. Thus, you can choose to sidestep or to walk around projectile, something that makes zoning less of a factor."

Continuing, he noted SoulCalibur's most distinguishing trait was the way it forced close combat. "The meta game is different here, in the sense that whenever you attack somebody or force them to block an attack, you have to know your exact frame advantage and disadvantage. Thus, sometimes, people will be doing attack strings on hit that leave you at a heavy disadvantage or in 50/50 guess situations."

"3D games are mostly about putting you in 50/50 situations. For example, when you get hit by a set-up, you'll always have a way to get out of it. However, you also will find yourself at a heavy disadvantage. You need a good understanding of mathematics with games like this. You need to know how to calculate frame data. You have to know things like, 'Okay. If this guy hits me, what is my distance advantage coming out on hit?' 'What is his disadvantage on block?' and so forth and so on."

The announcer roars over the crowd. Nightmare had won the first round by knocking his opponent into the abyss. "Stages in SoulCalibur are either open-ended stages, stages with walls or stages that are very small and without barriers. I said that space control isn't as big here as it is in games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat but that can change depending on the stage. Space control can occasionally play a big factor because, sometimes, some characters are better by the wall while others do best with wide-open spaces. It's one of the things you need to understand while watching."

A companionable silence followed as we watched the rest of the match. Nightmare pressed his advantage only to lose the second match, returning to triumph in the third. The camera cut to the players. One rose to shake the other's hand.

"So, “ I began, as the feed switched to a pre-recorded match. “What about King of Fighters?”

King of Fighters 13

"While some people think that King of Fighters is another Street Fighter clone, the game's entirely different. King of Fighters is actually more of a hardcore game because there are three characters to play instead of one. It's a 3vs3 sort of game. Instead of learning 1 character, you'll have to work with 3. Furthermore, your meter has to be managed between the three of them."

He then proceeded to explain the meta-game utilized in King of Fighters and the roles played by the members of a team "First, there's the battery. It's a character that can deal a lot of damage in the first round but also builds up a lot of the super bar for later. The second type of character is usually, like, a user - when the second character comes in, they'll be working with the meter that the battery has built up. Lastly, you have the third character who is sorta like your anchor. It's usually your best character, the character you feel most confident with, the character that you can use to come back from the abyss with."

"King of Fighter also has a roll mechanic." Sanchez added. "Even though it's on a 2D axis, you can do a horizontal roll to avoid projectile attacks and certain pokes. Compared to Street Fighter, King of Fighter's meta-game is definitely more aggressive and in-your-face."

A voice cut through the conversation. Sanchez had to go. Work was calling.

Watching Fighting Games Like A Pro


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