Subscribe

Get updates via e-mail:

« SF HD Remix Complete Change List | Main | Balancing Multiplayer Games, Part 4: Intuition »
Sunday
Nov092008

Street Fighter HD Remix Design Overview

Super Street Fighter 2 HD Remix was originally going to be a graphical update of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, but along the way some magic happened. HD Remix is now a completely new Street Fighter game—the 6th installment in the SF2 series. You get the classic gameplay of Super Turbo and the new HD Remix game in the same package, now available on both Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.

Guile's new Flash Kick is pretty crazy in Street Fighter HD Remix.

I'd like to explain how the gameplay changed SF HD Remix and the reasoning behind all the changes, but first I'll introduce myself. I'm David Sirlin, and I oversaw all the gameplay in HD Remix, so I deserve both your praise and criticism for all game balance issues. I've played Street Fighter since Street Fighter 1. I've competed in Street Fighter tournaments for 16 years and for 11 years I've helped organize and run the tournament series that started out as B3 and has now become the international Evolution Championships. I represented the United States in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo in Japan's Super Battle Opera tournament and I narrated much of Bang the Machine, a documentary film about the Street Fighter community. For years, I've been a care-taker of the franchise, helping to present the games in the best way in Capcom Classics Collection 1, 2, and Remixed.

And then I had the honor and burden of improving upon what I consider the very best Street Fighter game ever: Super Turbo. Many people said it's impossible to improve upon the polished gem of ST and there were lots of obstacles to even getting this new gameplay in the game. Dozens and dozens of times people told me I couldn't do it, wasn't allowed to do it, and other discouraging things. Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take," so I took my shot.

Here were the design goals:

1) Make the game easier to play—more inclusive rather than exclusive
2) Make the game even more balanced for tournament play
3) Add fun as long as it doesn't interfere with #2.

Easier Controls

Inside Street Fighter, there is a wonderful battle of wits, but many potential players are locked out of experiencing it because they can't dragon punch or do Fei Long's flying kicks, or whatever other joystick gymnastics. I'm reversing the trend. There's only so far I can go with this and still call it SF2, but wherever I could, I turned the knob towards easy execution of moves. Let's emphasize good decision making—the true core of competitive games—and get rid of artificially difficult commands.

This will get more players interested in the game, eventually leading to more competition. It will also get players past the awkward beginner phase faster and into the intermediate phase where the interesting strategy starts to emerge.

There are some players who wrongly believe that this "dumbs the game down." Actually, the opposite is true. Experts can perform special moves already, so the changes listed below have very little effect on them. Experts will care about actual balance changes such as hitboxes, recovery times, new properties for some moves, and so on. Making special moves easier, however, just allows everyone else to play the "real" game without needing to develop hundreds of hours of muscle memory just to perform the moves. It's actually sad to hear that some players think that their ability to execute a 360 command throw is why they are good, as opposed to the actual strategy of getting close enough to the opponent with Zangief to land the throw.

Another wrong-headed comment I often get is that easier controls don't leave enough skills in the game to separate good and bad players. The statement is absurd. Easier special moves don't change the strategic depth of the game at all (and the actual balance changes in HD Remix hopefully increase the strategic depth). Furthermore, there's no shortage of nuance for experts. Does Cammy's dragon punch beat Fei Longs? It depends on exactly who did it first, which means that 1/60th of a second timing is just as important as ever. So is positioning, spacing, the difficulty of performing combos, and the skill of reading the mind of the opponent.

Easier Moves Overview

• Dragon punch timing is more forgiving
• 360s throws have alternate motions
• Tiger knee motions have been removed
• Mash moves are easier
• All 3-button moves changed to 2-buttons

All dragon punches are easier because the timing window to perform them is no longer random—you now always get a 15 frame window between each joystick motion rather than a random number between 8 and 15 (and you only had a small chance of getting 15 in the original game). 360 motions are easier because they no longer require you to hold up, leading to accidental jumps. Spinning Pile Drives can now be done by half-circle forward, then back + punch or half circle back, then forward + punch. There is a lot of leeway on these commands so that they can still be done from defensive crouch, and the old 360 commands still work too.

Most commands ending with diagonally up/forward have been changed to much easier motions. Sagat's Tiger Knee is a dragon punch motion now (as it is in later games). Cammy's Hooligan Throw and Fei Long's Flying Kicks are now fireball motions (qcf + p and qcf + k, respectively), so no more accidental jumping frustrations.

The "mash moves" require less mashing. That means it takes fewer button presses to activate Chun Li's Lighting Legs, Honda's Hundred Hand Slap, and Blanka's Electricity.

All moves that required three simultaneous button presses now only require two. This is specifically to make the moves easier to execute on a gamepad (as opposed to an arcade joystick). Because of the way you hold a gamepad, it's easier to hit the jab + short buttons together with your thumb than it is to hit the jab+strong punch buttons. For this reason, there are a lot of jab+short commands now. Zangief's kick lariat, Vega's single defensive flip, Blanka's hop, and T.Hawk's aerial dive can all be done with jab+short as well as the original three button commands. Zangief's punch lariat and Vega's double defensive flip can be done with either strong+forward, fierce+roundhouse, or the original commands. Dhalsim and Akuma's teleports only require two punch or two kick buttons now, as does Balrog's turn punch (but don't worry, you can't charge turn punch while having access to fierce and roundhouse at the same time).

All of this taken together means that it's easier than ever to get your moves to come out, especially on a gamepad. These changes alone increase the fun factor of the game quite a bit, especially for T.Hawk, Cammy, and Fei Long because their moves were so hard to do before.

Balanced for Tournament Play

Super Turbo is a delicate ecosystem, so changing anything can affect game balance a lot. Because there's so much potential to wreck things, I needed a plan that leverages all the knowledge I have about high-level play over the last 14 years. I picture a flat piece of wood with 100 indentations on it and 100 marbles. If we have 90 of the marbles resting in the right indentations, we wouldn't want to violently shake the whole thing around in hopes of fixing the last 10.

After over a decade of tournaments, we know which characters are the best (Balrog and Dhalsim for sure, and Old Sagat in the US and Vega in Japan, with Chun Li as an honorable mention). We know which characters are the worst (Cammy, Fei Long, T.Hawk, Zangief, and Blanka). And which are in the middle. My goal was to buff up the worst characters so they reach the middle (or upper middle at best). Next, buff the middle characters slightly, but not so much that they become top tier. And finally, leave the top tier characters intact. In other words, the idea is to compress the tiers so that the difference in power between the best characters and worst characters is much smaller than before.

This approach gives me some margin of error. I tried to make the previously weak characters about 2nd tier, knowing that it's very possible for them to end up better than expected. If they end up top tier, that's fine, but if I tried to make them top and they ended up even above that, it would be a major problem. Even if the weak characters end up 2nd tier or slightly below, they'll still be much more able to win than before, and that's good news.

Keeping the top tier at about the same power level is a good idea for a few reasons. First, I have a very solid idea of how powerful a character needs to be to be top tier (same as always!). Next, to use my last analogy, rolling around fewer marbles is better, so it's safer to leave the top tier than it would be to bring them down in power and have no idea who's good anymore. Also, as I said when I rebalanced Puzzle Fighter, we already know what the game felt like with the previous top tier characters, and it was fun, so it's better to balance the game around that power level than a new, lower power level. And finally, to restate that, there are so many games that try to fix *everything* and nerf everything to such a low power level that even though things might be "fair," they are no longer fun. I call this the Marvel vs. Street Fighter syndrome.

That said, there are some nerfs to the top tier. It sounds like I just contradicted myself, so I want you to understand this important distinction. Imagine that a top tier character has 10 awesome things about him or 10 ways to win. If I really wanted to nerf his power level, I would make all 10 of these things, say, 20% worse. But what if one of those 10 things is so abusable that it can be repeated over and over pretty mindlessly, leading to shallow gameplay? This is a case where I think I can remove or tone down that 1 option and leave the other 9 just as strong as ever. This does not even necessarily reduce the overall power level of the character—it just forces the player out of repeating loops and into other more interesting options.

There are several of these situations in Super Turbo, and rather than trying to muck with every possible one, I think it's just safer to remove the repeatable abuse from the top tier characters only—the abusable stuff that can often decide matches.

It's ironic that as a player, I seek out exactly these kinds of repeatable, mindless moves, yet as a designer they are what I tried to remove. The list of toned down things is very, very short in comparison to the list of new, powered up stuff, so I think that fun factor is going up in addition to the compressing the tiers for balance.

I hope that you find Street Fighter HD Remix easier to play than Super Turbo, with more strategic depth, and with fewer lopsided matches than ever.

--Sirlin