Simple vs Complex Fighting games - a ramble

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.



Anyways, I feel that a game should be able to do both. Execution barriers can exist. It shouldn’t be necessary for competitive play. A player who has weak execution should be able to do an easier, more consistent combo but work slightly harder to open up the opponent more times. This is where I feel KI nails it.


SOOOO… I want to preface this by saying I don’t want to come off as elitist or churlish or whatever b/c I

  1. Suck at fighting games in general
  2. Have no prior experience with NRS titles in a competitive fashion
  3. Don’t even have the game yet but has been watching a bunch of streams and learning resources to prepare for when I get it on xbone and have little to no overlap with the competitive player base of MK11 image

First I think that the main thing is MK is more weird than hard. Combo theory is provided more so in strings than links in game and in most cases even stuff that would normal link don’t in MK because there aren’t attached to a string.(D1 is +10 on hit but D1,D1 isn’t a Combo).A couple juggle combos can be hard but you can also just not do hard combos. It doesn’t look as if NRS games are harder than the average 2d fighter (not average current 2d figher) they are just idiosyncratic which can be difficult to adjust to but doesn’t mean its difficult in itself .I believe a complete novice would have an about equally easy/hard a time learning a NRS game as their first fighter as another 2D fighter. For example some stuff in KI is hard to block punish (RAAM st.MP to Jago Shadow fireball/Kilgore F+HP to punish aria shadow shotgun blitz/Shin dp to TJ powerline)

With that being said the removal/sterilization of execution barriers isn’t as much of a boon as people think it is and makes for less fun games in that it removes ways to express oneself in the game and generally make the game weaker.The “sweet spot” for most “Gamers” and where a competitively sound and compelling game is are 2 completely different spots since most “gamers” dont care about NEUTCH,decision making under pressure, pattern regognition,conditioning risk assessment and self analysis/improvement just like they dont care for execution and if/when they play a game without execution they will complain about the other stuff :blush: sweet spot Plagiarized list of fundies

I think this is inaccurate. People like to pretend the “real” FG strategy is just mind games and all the other stuff (like timing, execution, handling complex systems in your mind well enough to have good decision making) should ideally not be there, but that’s not a genre of game that would be all that fun to play. FGs are not like chess; part of the allure of the genre is the fact that it is hard to do all this in real time, and that there are times when your brain says to do one thing but your fingers won’t do it properly.

Again, this kind of speaks to this underlying motion that “the neutral” is more important than other aspects of FGs, like understanding combo conversion and punish timing and stuff. I’m not convinced it’s true. Neutral is a conduit for how the rest of your skills and knowledge are tested, and matches have to start somewhere so they start in neutral, but it’s just one aspect of a fight.

I find this interesting because S1 actually had the hardest links. All that crazy Jago manual stuff could be 1f timing, and I believe it was IG who added buffers for manuals in S2 (or, at least, they expanded the buffer/made it a bit more consistent across the cast). But then again, as we played S1 more, we realized 1 chance into shadow cashout was easily the most rewarding way to play the combo game, so… all the execution stuff was just not necessary at all. So, to me, S1 had both the hardest execution but also the most meaningless execution, since the best strategy was the one that required no practice at all.

If you want more interesting discussion on complex systems weighing down so-called pure strategy, or wanting to play “the real game” without other stuff getting in the way, I would recommend this 10 minute Day9 video where he talks about misconceptions around Starcraft: Brood War. I think his points are very interesting and you’d probably enjoy the video.


Thanks everybody, for all of your thoughtful comments.

Yeah, I’m not convinced it’s true either. Actually I don’t think anything is “true” - part of my intention with the original post was to point out that there are different idealized visions of what a fighting game should be but that these ideas don’t necessarily work out in practice. The point I was trying to make using this example wasn’t about neutral so much as it was about the situation where a player knows exactly what they are supposed to do, and just can’t execute.

I’m firmly in the camp where I believe if the opponent beats you, he is better at the game than you. Saying things like “he’s just a button masher” or “he only knows that one combo” etc. is just sour grapes. He may only know that one combo, but he beat you with it.

And I think when we talk about “execution” we normally use it as short hand for a player’s ability to pull off the game’s mechanics (usually combos). But ultimately if you look at a game like Fantasy Strike (or Smash Bros if you prefer), while executing the different attacks has very low execution, the ability to time those attacks and hit your opponent comes down to precise execution also. So I don’t think it’s that simple in the end.

We’ve heard a lot from people that SFV is “too easy” in terms of execution. But I still can’t complete all the character challenges and I notice that the top tier tournament scene is still dominated by mostly the same people. So clearly combo difficulty wasn’t what separates those players from the masses.

I think there’s no such thing as a perfect fighting game. I think there’s many different and equally valid philosophies. My definition of too difficult execution is (I suspect similar to everyone else’s) too difficult for me. And I think MK11 has some arbitrary timing executions for flawless blocks and punishes etc that don’t need to be as tight as they are. That’s a decision the developers have made that I think is going to gate a lot of players out of more competitive play even if they haven’t hit their skill ceiling in other aspects of the game.

But I’m not sitting in this hotel on Asia wishing I was home playing fantasy strike. I’m wishing I was home playing MK11. So there’s no question that there’s something more to making a game fun than removing execution barriers from higher level play.

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I don’t know how competitive FS is played but Smash games are monolithic. Like a bunch of competitive smash is walled behind execution (movement, combos, survivability) and even without that players have to deal with 81 unique matchups. The amount of knowledge needed to be a solid competitive smash player who doesn’t drown in pools or something is a lot.

To defend flawless block being difficult it gives the flawless blocker the ability to punish someone for “hitting” you in a scenario with a gap so you can use it to escape situation where you are disadvantaged for a bar(frame traps, gaps in pressure strings and when cancelling into a non advantaged move and Flawless blocking). The risk of attempting it is somewhat low since 1/2 the time you mess up you will get hit which is bad but the other 1/2 you will just block so it wont always be the end of the world if you miss a Flawless block. With decent reward and low risk, Flawless block having a strict window serves to not have guess FBlocking
be a dominant strategy. Making the mechanic hard to use for committed players and too hard for casuals is the decision NRS made non arbitrarily but based on risk/reward.

Here is a link to a talk an IGS dev did about how fighting games have become more accessible mechanically and the effects.

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To add my two cents to this excellent thread…

For me, it’s all about having fun. 99.9% of FG player base aren’t ever going to be in a tourney. They just want to do cool things and have fun. @BiyemAssi237 and I talked last night at length about the balance of difficulty versus accessibility.

This is one of the reasons why I still love KI. With things like Combo Assist a novice fighter can jump into this game, mash some buttons and make cool things happen on screen. They may never dig deep into manual execution, or difficult to break combos. They just like seeing long strings of awesome happen before their eyes. It makes them feel empowered, if you will. I’ve known several newish FG players that started with KI with this very attitude, but then loved it enough to stay engaged and learn the more difficult tech.

In comparison, MK11 feels like it was designed for people with godlike reflexes. I’m not really having issues with Flawless Blocking, as much as just trying to do some of the wackier strings. I still prefer the battle system they used in MK9.

My biggest gripe with the new MKs as a whole is why not just allow you to hold back to block. :smile:


The block button does have an impact on the way the game is played. Crossups being the biggest, but also you have to release the block button before entering any string you use for punishes.

Thanks @TooSWKKI. I have seen reference to Noah’s talk before, but it’s so long I haven’t made it to the end. I’m listening to it right now and I’m about 20 minutes in. It’s very enlightening in the sense that it’s an analysis of different methods that have been used by developers and an honest assessment of whether or not they work. I don’t necessarily agree with what he says but I like his analysis. SO far, for example, I would argue about fighting games not having hidden information. Most fighting games have huge amounts of hidden information - in the form of frame data, movelists, potentialities etc. It’s true that this information is equally available to both players since they share a screen. But I think the “knowledge gap” is a huge differentiator between players and unlike a lot of the things that separate experienced intermediate players from high level competitors, game knowledge is a differentiator between players at all levels. So it’s worth thinking about.

I liked his overall message, that maybe people need to be more thoughtful about what they are doing and not just accept that things are “true” because people say them a lot. But I would have liked to see him provide a little more opinion and analysis rather than “here’s what they did, maybe it worked.”

Here’s a nice and relevant video from Core-A Gaming on the idea. Everybody has probably seen it, but it gets more toward how I think I’m viewing the world.

Is this really hidden information though? Both players had the ability to study/know a movelist or some frame data before the match starts – that one person did and the other didn’t isn’t of consequence to the game. Chess is a game of perfect information, but one player may know more book openings than another person, or may know to avoid certain well known traps.

I think you might be able to argue there’s a small amount of hidden information trapped in the real time aspect, as in… the person controlling a character knows what he intends to do for the split second before he does it, and the opponent will always be playing a small game of “catch up” to the game state when it’s presented a few frames later, but that’s probably the extent of it. Certainly compared to many other games, where large parts of the entire game state are permanently hidden from some subset of the players, it’s pretty close to effectively zero in fighting games.

Yeah, I don’t want to debate the semantics. He’s talking about hidden information in the context of competitors having imperfect knowledge of the game state - like not knowing what cards are in your opponent’s hand. In fighting games the information is definitely equally available to both players since they are looking at the same screen. And certainly from a competitive point of view neither player is advantaged over the other (except in as much as hard work and experience allows them to better understand the information being presented to them on the screen).

I just tend to think of it from the point of view of introducing new players to the game. In which case so many of the systems and subsystems that are important to understand are not displayed on the screen. Back in the day, only a subset of SF 2cabinets had a sticker around the marquee showing special move inputs for the characters. I had played Sf2 a few times before I realized there were special moves (which I later looked up in a magazine), and things like knowing some buttons change based on range to the opponent are hidden in the sense that you don’t know until you see it happen. So this is hidden from the player learning the game, as versus hidden from one competitor.

And actually, below the level of tournament competition a great deal of the outcome in fighting games is determined by knowledge gaps between one player and the other. Knowledge of interactions, what punishes what etc.

heres an interesting article regarding fighting games. it truly is a unique genre in gaming