Monday, 4 August 2014

Let's Learn Fighting Games! Featuring Fritz

I considered writing about Studio Ghibli's apparent closure today, but I think I'll wait for more details to unfold before opening that can of worms.

The question of how to teach a fighting game to someone is one that's forever on players hungry for new blood in their scenes' minds. It's one that we still don't really have an answer for still, or else I wouldn't be writing this post. I could write a big spiel about needing mental fortitude and humility to accept that you're going to lose a ton, but there's already entire books on it. I could write about how experience in any competitive realm is just as important as hitting the training grounds. Instead though, I want to entertain an idea about what to do with people who need to learn from the ground up. I want to suggest that we provide a simple game with obvious flaws, and try to structure the information in a way that makes the flaws appear and get resolved one at a time.

What I propose we do is get two newbies at once, and get them to play a game. I suggest Akatsuki Blitzkampf since it runs on just about any PC, is easily acquired through piracy (or legit purchases on  Melonbooks!) and doesn't have 0f throws. I'm going to use Fritz for this as he's an extremely simple character who does pretty much everything you could want a fighting game character to do for a tutorial with pretty much zero execution requirements. Here's his entire set of combos for you.
Step 1: Introduce Rock, Paper, Scissors and Footsies
First up, let's lay down what the players can use to begin with. Crouching normals, throws and instruct them not to block by holding back, but by holding downback. No special moves, no parry, absolutely no jump or even standing normals. Getting the habit of blocking low and reacting to highs is vital for 2D fighters. Then, we explain the essential rock/paper/scissors that is the very central core of the genre's mindgames.

Rock is performing attacks. It loses to
Paper, which is blocking. That in turn loses to
Scissors, also known as throwing. That in turn loses to getting punched in the face.

All of these can cause ties as well. If both people hit an attack, it'll probably trade. If they both blocking, nothing happens. If they both throw, a throwtech occurs.

At the same time, I think that starting with just this should lead to people figuring out on their own that there's an additional rule: if the other guy misplaces their rock/paper/scissors, you get to throw a rock at them. Since we've removed a lot of the complexities, there should be a more natural inclination to think about this as a thing to watch out for.

With Fritz we can also teach them a combo in this base game. 2B chains into 2C, but doesn't reach as far. 2A will stuff most throw attempts, but doesn't lead to a combo so you need to think about what to do after you're pushed away from mashing it.

After a good 5-10 games they'll probably complain that the game's too simple, and that it's way too hard to land hits because the other guy just keeps blocking and teching throws. In that situation, we make our first introduction.

Step 2: Standing overheads
Tell them that they can now use standing normals. This gives us another combo in the form of 5B chaining to 5C, as well the almighty raw 5C and 4C, both of which are overheads. These are fast enough that they won't be blocking the things immediately, but slow enough that they're certainly reactable. After a bunch of games with these new tools, we introduce a new way to increase damage.

Step 3: Jump-ins can hurt like hell. They also hit high.
Now that they're used to reacting to standing overheads, we introduce the notion of responding to jump arcs. This gives people a new way to position themselves, throw in more mixups and deal big damage. Fritz's j.C is a good move for just working in another overhead, but his j.B gives us another new combo! One that uses meter!

Jump B, crouching A, A+B+C (the super) Is a combo! Make sure that they only use the super for this purpose at this point, as we'll talk about Fritz's super later.

Hopefully they'll start saying "he's jumping all the time, how do I stop it?" Perhaps they might have prior asked "what does this stupid upward slash I get when I'm walking backwards and hit B do?" Either way, now we can introduce solid anti-air normals. There's no invincibility on Fritz's 4B so you need to be on point with how you time it. The thing's also got a million years of recovery if you whiff with it, so it reinforces reactions and whiff punishes.

So now we have established all the basics of how to move and swat people, as well as how to defend. What do we do next?

Step 4: Special moves can change the dynamic of the game
Fritz only has two special moves: teleport forwards and teleport backwards. He has fake versions of both. With this they should be able to see that adjusting your approach speed and feinting can bait people into hitting buttons foolishly. Then they can punish with a beefy normal.

The EX versions of his teleports are fully invincible, but do nothing else. They teach that sometimes characters will be able to expend resources to escape nasty situations, but that this doesn't always mean you can immediately hit buttons. When you teleport with Fritz, you're probably going to want to block next. So is there anything else after this beyond applying the knowledge to things like fireballs? There's one more important lesson to teach with this fellow.

Step 5: Fighting games are videogames, and sometimes they have really silly stuff.
Fritz's level 3 super is a move where he dashes forward then does an unblockable strike that takes half your life. This teaches a couple of things:
1) Different metered moves have different uses
2) Sometimes videogames have really dumb things in them that will catch you by surprise. Keeping calm and working out a solution is a very good skill to develop.
3) This is pretty much what Zangief wants to do to you all the time. Jump away from the unblockable attack then punish.

I think it's an ample replacement for learning what to do about command grabs, and how having such an option available can make you jump when you don't really want to and get swatted.

By this point if you've been spending a good 10 games on each step, or however many it takes for the newcomer to get comfortable, then you should be on your way to getting them to start thinking for themself and working out how they like to use the rules to make their own form of expression.

Of course there's more to ABK thanks to its parry system, and there's going to be plenty of game-specific things for whatever game you have on hand that a newcomer's really interested in playing. I still think that breaking things down from the ground up so they don't get hit with an information overload is the way to go about things.

Tune in next time, when I might talk about something that isn't fighting games! Or perhaps I'll talk about how frustrating Blazblue is to teach to absolute newcomers for reasons related to what I've laid out here.


  1. Want to test this? I'm a newbie and I'm happy to actually try.

  2. I'll be around EVAC again in a few weeks once the play's done.

  3. I'm... almost tempted myself, to be honest. Even though half of this very newbie-friendly writeup still has me glazing over with unfamiliar nomenclature.

    I doubt I'll ever have the reflexes to actually make a serious effort at fighting games, mind - proper combos need a level of execution I just can't see myself achieving, so I just throw out specials and sweeps while occasionally mashing jab. :P