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Saturday
Feb212009

A Few Things About Street Fighter 4

Street Fighter 4 is finally here, with several perfect 100/100 reviews. Here's a few things I noticed about the game.

In ranked matches, you can see the opponent's name before the match and kick them or reject the challenge. This allows you to cherry pick who you fight and negates the entire purpose of a ranked match.

In ranked matches (well, all matches) there is no double blind character select. This means the optimum strategy is often to wait until the opponent chooses first so you can counter-pick. This is a very annoying situation.

When lag inevitably happens in an online fighting game, there are different ways to handle it. Some SF4 matches I played had large input delay, maybe as high as 15 frames. This is the time between your button press and seeing the effect happen. Adding input delay is really the worst way to handle lag. GGPO's amazing netcode shows that avoiding input delay and hiding lag in other ways is the way to go. That technology has been readily available for years, so it's disappointing to feel input delay in an online match.

The button config screen is "the wrong way." The right way is for the screen to list functions, then you press the buttons you want to assign. The wrong way is to list buttons, then you scroll through lists of functions to assign. The reason that one way is right and the other way is wrong is pretty clear when you watch people try to configure buttons. I've had to watch what must be thousands of people do this over the years in all the tournaments I've helped run (not to mention local gatherings). When the config screen says "Jab" and requires you to press the button you want, you just press the upper left button on your stick (or whatever button on your gamepad). This is a one-step process. But if the screen lists "X" and then requires you to scroll through functions until you find jab, it requires a two step process. You have to know which button on your controller is labeled "X." When this screen is the right way, no one has to know if the upper left button happens to be X or A or B or whatever else.

If you think this is negligible, you have never seen people set buttons. The wrong way turns what should be a 3 second task into a fairly confusing affair. Yes I know the wrong way allows you to have lots of functions in your list, but this can be done the right way also.

On to gameplay issues. The jumps have strange acceleration to them. While that's subjective, look at Zangief's jump that seems to have the acceleration of a flea. (Incidentally, why does his splash not stay out the whole time in the air?). Also, getting hit out of the air is extremely floaty, which means it takes unusually long to get back to a state where you can actually move again. This "moving in jello" feel is reinforced by many throws that have dead time at the end when it seems like you should be able to move (see Vega's for example).

The size of the stages is extremely large relative to the size of the characters. This helps runaway tactics.

Optimizing for the 1% rather than the 99% case. There's two examples, the first is tech recover (quick get up from a knock down). 99% of the time, I want to get up fast, but this is the action that requires button presses. Why not admit that getting up fast is the intent and make it default, unless the player holds down some buttons to get up slow? That's how it works for Robo-Ky in Guilty Gear, by the way. Incidentally, don't the two kinds of get up timing only lessen the importance of knockdown by allowing you mess up the attacker's timing a bit? Like the decision to have large stages, this seems not to favor offense.

Next is the 2-button throw, a bad idea in fighting games with 2D gameplay. 3D Fighting games are different beasts, so they are excused here, but note that even Dead or Alive offers a macro to turn its 2 button throw into a 1 button throw...and maps that macro to a face button by default. Anyway, 2 button throws solve a non-problem that no one has ever actually had. That's the problem of accidentally throwing and being sad about it. Street Fighter 2, Guilty Gear series, and Street Fighter Alpha 2 all demonstrated that 1 button throws work just fine and don't actually create any problems. Adding a second button press just adds complexity where it's not necessary, and helps nothing. (Edit: it does add a throw whiff which could be a good thing, but simpler is still better...)

Other non-problems we might solve in 2D fighting games would be to make blocking 1 button and jumping 1 button (each are traditionally zero buttons). We certainly could add those button presses, but it would make more sense to reduce the button presses to as few as possible: zero to jump, zero to block, and one to throw.

It's especially unfortunate that Cammy's hooligan throw requires a 2-button throw in the middle to complete it. Why exactly is this necessary, rather than one button?

2 button throws actually introduce the problem of kara-throws, a bug from SF3 that we now have again in SF4. This is when you cancel a forward moving attack a frame or two into it with a throw command in order to greatly extend your throw range. Do the designers want a long throw range or do they not? If they don't kara throws shouldn't be in the game. If they do, then base throw ranges should be extended for all players, not just the ones who input a difficult command.

Another similar bug is the chain combo cancel bug. As an example, consider Sakura. Low short does cancel into special moves. But if you rapid fire the low short (do it 2 or 3 times quickly each one cancels the last) then you CANNOT cancel the last hit into a special. I'm not saying this is a problem at all, necessarily. This restriction is there for good reason: to prevent the game from degenerating into low short -> big damage stuff. It would make more sense to give players a reason to start combos with bigger moves sometimes. Guilty Gear does a great job of this by reducing your entire combo's damage by 20% for each low short. (Hey Guilty Gear players, I know I'm simplifying there.)

Ok so what's the problem, sounds good that you can't do low short, low short, special move, right? But you can do it. If you make the last short a link rather than a chain (do it slowly, but not so slow that it doesn't combo) then you can cancel it into a special move. So really, you can get around this restriction if only you have high dexterity skills. Now, this is also true in ST and SF HD Remix, but that's not so much intent as what we were stuck with. For an entirely new game, I'm surprised to see this still there. I'm even more surprised to see combos that use this in the challenge mode, meaning the developers know about it and accept that low short is really this powerful. SF4 Sakura, for example, can low short, (link), low short, ex shoryken, ultra. She can do a lot more than that, but you get the idea.

This issue of rapid fire moves using a bug to cancel into specials is actually minor compared to the next topic though, a topic that will dominate much of the game: link combos in general. The game is filled with difficult 1-frame links. These are moves that just barely combo into each other with 1/60th of a second timing. In high level play, players will master these and they become common. So Sakura doing low jab, (link), low fierce, short helicopter kick, (link) low short, ex shoryuken, ultra for 50% will be common. One friend of mine already does this combo in real matches after only 2 days of playing, as well as other scarily damaging combos off low short that involve hard links.

Other examples, Ryu can now link low short, low jab, low forward. He can also link low strong, low strong, low roundhouse. Linking is the name of the game, which actually makes the game closer to CvS2 than to 3s or ST. The effect of all these links is to hide the actual game behind an impenetrable wall of execution. If you practice (ie, develop 1p skills unrelated to strategy and unrelated to interaction with the opponent) then you gain access to the real game, a game of high damage off small hits, but only for the dexterous.

Of course some level of this is inherent in just about every fighting game. It's a question of how far to turn the knob towards 1p activities and away from strategy. Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo has dexterity requirements of course, but winning tournaments while using zero or very few link combos is entirely possible. That simply isn't the main focus of the game. The existence of many, many new links in SF4 shifts the focus toward that though.

Next up, we have ultras. All I'll really say here is that in real matches I find myself having to pump qcf x 2 over and over looking for the right moment to do the ultra. When I find that moment, I have to complete the qcf x 2 command with PPP. Let's hope I don't press PP in those moments, because that command gives me a super, which is an entirely different move. I'm not sure what qcf x 2 + PPP is doing in a "casual friendly game" in the first place.

Then there's focus canceling. The idea of paying half your meter to cancel a move is taken from Guilty Gear where it was called roman canceling. It's a wonderful mechanic in Guilty Gear, by the way. The command in that game is press any three buttons--I use PPP. This is actually pretty natural because when using a joystick, your right hand's natural resting position is on those PPP buttons usually. In SF4, the roman cancel command is medium punch + medium kick, then tap forward, forward. This is really awkward and a whole lot of inputs for one decision (the decision to roman cancel). I wish I could map this command to PPP or something, rather than having to do button presses AND double taps. There's many combos involving this that you'll need to be able to do to be competitive, so I'm not sure why this ended up requiring so many extraneous inputs.

When I read about the 100/100 scores, I see again and again how "simple and elegant" the game is. Two super meters, a 3-tier focus attack system, and all the complications above seem to fly in the face of that. Even more though, I hear how "casual friendly" it is. This is deeply mysterious and I'm not sure why this so often claimed. Not every game has to be casual friendly, so it would seem more honest to just explain how casual unfriendly all these things are. Qcf x 2 +PPP all the time, extra button presses to throw, extra button presses to roman cancel, and many, many extremely difficult link combos work in concert to create that impenetrable wall of execution between you and the actual game (the interaction between you and your opponent). I wish we could get rid of all this stuff and focus more on the gameplay itself.

Edit: I forgot to mention two more things. First, the unlocks. I'm very surprised to see basic functionality of the multiplayer game--the characters--locked behind tedious 1p tasks. I had to pay a tax of fighting the computer on easiest for long time just to get the core features of the game. (I did this picture-in-picture while watching episodes of Frasier.) I'm fully aware that casual players love unlocks, and that's why non-essential content like costumes, movies, icons, and titles are all perfectly fine to give as rewards for playing 1p content. But the *characters*? This steps on the toes of those wanting to play the multiplayer game by making our first experience with the game a very boring one. I wanted to hire a MMO gold farmer to do this for me.

And the last thing I should have mentioned here is that despite all these many problems, there is fun to be had in the game...

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Reader Comments (275)

I totally agree with everything said.

I think many of the things about the game are good, particularly the revenge meter in general (as a sort of perpetual comeback tool) but yeah, the combos in SF4 are kind of unreasonably hard and being able to pick who you play ranked matches against is stupid.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAuspice

Spot on review. I don't know why I would want to play Street Fighter 4 when I can play Guilty Gear instead.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLofobal

Thanks for being bold and making this list of complaints; I've been saying the same things to my friends the whole week.

Another thing that really, really annoys me is that reviewers of the game say that the controls feel right, but also mention that you need a stick to play the game. I believe that many people would prefer playing the game with a pad. Why don't the reviewers take this problem seriously? HD Remix and most 3D fighting games are playable with pads, it's a shame that SF4 evolves the fighting genre backwards in this way.

Most of all, since SF4 (avec link combos) is forcing me to play practice mode ad nausea, I'm begging my friends to play SFHD. Yes, to me, Sirlin's new SF is more fun.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobert August de Meijer

I share your thoughts on the game. It's seeming more and more each day that SF4 will be a game I don't play competitively, and instead just fool around in every once in a while. I was hoping it would be more accessible than it is; I don't have the time to nail down extremely difficult inputs all day.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterross

Well THIS was an interesting post! Indeed I shared...well...some very basic opinions of this too as seen here:
http://the-gel.livejournal.com/195691.html
http://the-gel.livejournal.com/196055.html

Mostly in the "controls feel a bit off, especially jumping and dashing" department. I claimed in the past that 2.5D fighters couldn't work and that a 3D cel-shaded SF4 was a terrible idea because of the fundamental differences between sprites and polygons. Battle Fantasia made me eat my words, but I've been hyper critical of all "2.5D" fighters because of this, moreso of SF4 because of my hatred of Dimps who Co-Developed it (I find all Dimps fighters to have unplayably stiff controls, worse than SF1. Trust me, I'm an SF1 fanboy). I was plesantly surprised by SF4 as it's controls were less stiff than the average Dimps fighter and it worked pretty well, but I felt it still had some VERY MINOR hiccups and that Battle Fantasia and Tatsunoko vs Capcom controlled slightly better (BF more than TvC).

The news, however, that links will probably be insanely vital to gameplay is pretty disheartening...however the damage scaling here is REALLY heavy and comboing ANYTHING into an Ultra gets you 50% damage anyway so I may as well just do the Old Faithful of EX Electric Punch -> Ultra rather than messing with excessively complex combos. I am doing well at the moment with just a barely combo-ing C.Viper though so I'll see how far I can take that before hitting the brick wall of super high level players. Though I think SF4 will provide me with an endless supply of newbie Kens to slaughter so I can probably keep C.Vipering for a long time to come.

Now, as for why it gets claims of being "So Accessible"? That's EASY: Because that's what the magazines were TOLD! To be blunt, most magazines don't have a good fighter reviewer and as such, if it's a big name fighter it gets a good score and if it's a no-name fighter it gets a pretty low one. If Virtua Fighter 5 played EXACTLY the same but was released by a different company with different characters and was named Fightery Fight, it would have been called a "mindless button masher" and scored a 5/10. I guarantee this. Capcom themselves claimed they wanted a more accessible fighter so people merely believed them and regurgitated said "info" because no one in the office really knew what they were talking about. :D

(Sorry, I tend to be really harsh on reviewers. I respect them, I just feel most magazines don't hire people with varied taste anymore and as such only certain game types can get intelligent reviews as for everything else the reviewers just have to "wing it")

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGEL

Heh. Maybe by 'casual' they mean 'people who don't want to look "cheap" by accidentally throwing someone' ;)

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkarln

I know these are just your opinions, but I feel you became pretty pushy when you started discussing the two-button throw and low short linking issues. It appears you were just looking for a game where all tactics and counters are already given and as simple as a turn of a card, but you have your kongai and turn based strategy games for entertainment of those categories. This is street fighter, a game that was born and bred on moves & tactics that inherently require a certain amount of dexterity. just my two cents

Edited by Sirlin: Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo is also a "Street Fighter game" without many of these problems.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Minor move mixup / typo , it's EX tatsu that combos into ultra with Sakura. Otherwise I agree with a lot of the article. I'm very interested to see how high level SF4 is played in the future.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCeirnian

Dammit, Sirlin. One day after I order... ;)*


*it's still pretty good, right?


Edited by Sirlin: Yes, there's fun to be had, despite all this.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHarald

Would you prefer the Ultra moves to have a QCF×2, HP+HK motion?

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhey

I agree with all your points, apart form the throw inputs. The two-button throw introduces throw whiffs, which adds another level of yomi to the game. If you know your opponent is going to throw you, you can step back / jump / dash back and punish the whiff.

I agree about kara throws in general. However, the only significant one I've seen is ken's, and even with it he is still only low-mid tier, so I say let him keep it, if they removed it then he would be even lower. :\

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZomby138

Just a note: Ignore everything ever said by GEL cause not only is he completely clueless about what's good in fighting games, he also has atrocious taste in.. well, everything.

Anyway, while I agree with some of Dave's points, and his central premise that SFIV is casual friendly is a crock of shit is indeed true - I've been saying that since day 1 (and I'd also like to point out this applies to every single Street Fighter game ever) - but a number of these complaints are unwarranted or just "I don't like that".

I mean really: complaining about 2 button throws in 2009? That got old 10 years ago. 2D games work fine with 2 button throws. They're not meant for the players who get accidentally throw and feel sad, who don't not exist; it's for the players who get accidentally thrown and feel sad. No more optional select - now if you want to throw, you need to input the proper command. No free HP/HK for you if you miss. Now you get a whiff animation, and possibly get punished.

I cant believe you of all people are complaining about kara-throws. First I have to ask: Aside from Ken, who has a decent kara-throw? Second, how is this at all a bother? Throws in SFIV have okay range - not great, but better than Sf3 series at least. It's quite adequate. But I can extent my throw further with a more difficult method, why is this a problem? It's not like in 3S where kara-throws were necessary to offset parry; in SFIV they're a bonus for a handful(?) of characters. Now if it turns out that only Sagat, Gief and Gouki have them, that would be a problem, but that's more of a character issue than the mechanic being a problem.

I also can't believe you're complaining about quick standing. They're meant as an option to get up but it's only available after certain moves. Because of that, no, they don't mess up the importance of knockdown. You just don't get advantage after every type of knockdown, including silly things like mistiming a vertical jump over a FB.

I don't have a stick so I can't really compare, but aren't 1-frame links in SFIv easier because of an input buffer? Bison's c.LP, c.MK is a 1 frame link and I nail that all the time in SFIV, and I generally SUCK at link combos. I could never do them in CvS2. Anyway, thanks to the hideous damage scaling, most players will get more mileage out of jumping something -> standing something XX special; it's only once you go way up the player chart that you need to start doing link combos regularly, which isn't any different from any other serious fighter really.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUltima

@GEL I wouldn't label link combos as "insanely vital". It's just another level of expertise to master and I honestly think people can play successfully without it if they wanted to. How far do people want to focus on technical ability before they focus on strategy? The answer is different for everyone and like you said, you're sticking to your ol'faithful combos and I'm doing just fine by doing the exact same. That's also not to say I've given up on link combos entirely cause they're too hard. I find it alluring to spend time practicing new combos that my muscle memory is not used to in matches where a victory is definite. Would you significantly alter your strategy if you knew you were playing against someone who knew link combos versus someone who didn't?

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBilly

All I know about SF4 is watching the 1up show do an hour-long preview of the (console) game, and they spent the first ten minutes trying to do one "advanced" combo in challenge mode.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenternifboy

You didn't even mention character unlocks. They go out of their way to put move lists in the game, yet make new players hit up the internet for character unlock requirements anyway.

Unlockable characters/weapons/etc in competitive games are such a bad idea that I don't even know where to begin. Call of Duty 4 is proof that reviewers and casual players eat that shit up with a spoon though, so I guess competitive gamers don't matter anymore.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPoisonDagger

Wow.. great article. Validates many of the things I have been feeling in this game.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Normally would agree with you that complex inputs takes away strategy from the game, but throwing on two buttons instead of one is totally acceptable.

You said that it does not add anything axept complexity. One thing it do add iis wiffing throws. In SF2, when you try to throw someone, but are just outside your range, your standing fierce (or whatever button you where using) will come out, and if it has enough range, you will probably hit blocking opponent and be safe. This is something I try to use when playing blanka in HDR, I walk up throw, and if my opponent would try to jump away my standing fierce will knock him out of the sky. Another thing it can do is accidental throwing, when I play Guile and someone wiffs a shoryuken (or similar) just in front of me, I would like to punish them with close fierce - sonic boom - backfist. This is however not possible, as i must hold back when doing close fierce in order to maintain charge for sonic boom.

In SF3, where you have 2 button throws, you do not have these problems. A throw will never come out unintentional and when trying to throw at the wrong time, your wiff throw animation will come out. I think this put more focus on knowing the ranges and only throwing at the right times, which I see as a good thing.

BTW, pressing two buttons instead if one is not a big deal, anyone can do that.

Kara throws on the other hand I do agree is a bad thing, but I do not think that the best way to remove them is to make all throws 1-button presses, as this imo takes away from the strategy.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteraron

Good article this time, those things are the obvious problems that any expert should notice. Well, at least SF4 has a kick player option for multiplayer, which was direly needed after SFHD and how it played online.

Edited by Sirlin: The ability to kick players was intentionally left out of SFHD. Can you imagine how horrible it would be if you were kicked for "throwing too much" or winning too much, or whatever? That's exactly how it would be.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAtTheGates

Hmm, interesting bit about the tech recover. I'm not a high level player by any means, but it seems counter-intuitive to actively slow down the knockdown recovery. I'm sure with practice you'd get over that, but to me getting up quickly could be considered some form of aggression which is facilitated by by hitting the buttons.

Otherwise though, I'd agree with this assessment. Only recently got into Street Fighter again with HDR, and right now it's looking like it's going to take a longer amount of time to become as proficient with 4 because of the reliance of combos to punish adequately. I've never been the most dexterous of players and it seems like I'll have to spend more time in practice mode instead of playing others to learn.

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFernando

It's hard to be honest in a review when you're trying to sell a commodity, and not trying to educate people.

Great article Sirlin :)

February 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErik McLennan
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