This may interest only me, but there’s some deep thinkers on these forums and the release of MKX has me thinking about this a lot. So I figured I’d post my ramble and see of anyone else had any comments.
I have been thinking about fighting game mechanics lately, in part because I revisited Fantasy Strike, which I purchased a while ago. It’s a pretty cool game. Cartoony but decent graphics and interesting enough character design. But it is a game with a very small execution barrier. I could teach my wife and kids all the moves in the game in less than ten minutes.
But in playing it online, it’s clear that there is still a huge skill gap between me and better players. The “execution” is replaced by fine judgements about spacing and timing and knowledge of the spacing and timing of your opponent. What makes this interesting, then, is that you are “closer to the heart” of fighting game strategy right away - making decisions based around “what is my opponent likely to do next? what do I need to do to counter it?” - rather than struggling to understand a huge number of complex systems.
The downside of this is that the strategy of the game is deep and fun, but the game isn’t tremendously exciting. You “see” the same things over and over again. It also has the same amount of frustration when you lose because you just can’t outmaneuver a player with a better recognition of the spacing and timing and rules of the game. But it is at least easier to see why are losing.
Contrast this to MK11. This game looks amazing, has tons of stuff to do, and so far I’m loving it. But even just walking through the tutorials it took me (and experience fighting game player) over an hour. And there are multiple systems to keep track of as well as multiple execution based skills which require extremely precise execution timing. I don’t know if they are “1 frame links” but punishing unsafe strings, flawless block and the reversal moves after flawless block all require better timing than I am capable of in order to land them consistently. I don’t think I have terrific reflexes, but I’m a lifelong gamer and I suspect I do better than most. The point being, these systems are basically a gate between most players and the higher levels of play. No matter how good you are at reading your opponent, if you are going to drop half of your punish opportunities because you can’t get the timing down you are going to lose to players who can - even if they don’t have an understanding of the neutral.
Having said that, I will probably do at least as well at MK11 as at Fantasy Strike as far as playing at a competitive level. And I will probably put more hours in and have more fun with it as well. So, while philosophically, I am much more in favor of Fantasy Strike it’s tough for me to argue MK11 isn’t a more fun game.
All of which is just to say this has me thinking about the role of execution barriers in games and the “sweet spot” for the huge set of gamers that are never going to train for or even attend a tournament but still might like to compete in games online. I tend to feel like KI (especially season 1) had a really great balance. But I am increasingly inclined to think there’s room in the FGC for a pretty wide range of “solutions” to this balance of accessibility vs. execution.
One of the things that I think unfairly makes the FGC tend to favor execution barriers is that it tends to obviously reward commitment - in the form of practice hours. So people can look at these execution barriers and say “look, I put the effort in so I can land this stuff. deal with it.” Which I get. But the flip side is that it confuses a lot of people into thinking that being successful at fighting games is about landing hard combos. So a big part of the player base is not doing the kind of analysis of decision making that they need to be more successful. This also excludes people like me - who aren’t going to grind the execution, but do enjoy the analysis of decision making - from participation at a higher level. Although I’m not sure my experience with Fantasy Strike supports the idea that I would be a true competitor if only the execution barrier was lower. But I feel like I could be more actively engaged in the community at least.
Anyway, that’s my ramble.