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Fight!

August 2, 2011

They literally give you an achievement for using training mode for over an hour. Which I did.

One of the best things about Blazblue is its continual depth; this goes for fighting games in general, but especially this one. Practicing with Tsubaki, I was beginning to realize that a simple 5BB > 2CC > 5CC > 236C > 214B > 22C combos simply didn’t cut it in the majority of situations one might encounter in a match. Let’s say, for example, you have an opponent air dash toward you. This combos will not cover it, but you’ve got quite  a few options to counter. First, 2CC can stop any threat from the air if your opponent pressed buttons. From here, you can go for an air combo, something like j.C > dj. CC > 236A > 214C, which will do quite some damage, or you can go for a variation on the normal ground combo, usually taking the opponent to a corner with a 22x to get charge. Whereas the former get more damage, that’s more recovery time in the air, especially if you go for air charge, but the latter give you enough time, easily, to get 1-2 charges for any further combos. The above can be augmented if you already have charge (236D and 214 C at the air combo’s end, for example, can extend the combo even further, or you can 22x and 236D to move the opponent into the corner). Typing this up, however, took quite a bit longer than an actual match’s outcome, of course; all this knowledge, and obviously a lot more, has to be done on the fly, with decision-making an instantaneous process. The only way to utilize new options, of course, is practice, since the muscle memory you need for such input is enormous (of course, every character has a limit on what combos they can create, but such knowledge comes with time).

Literally, the two ways to get good at Blazblue are such: practice, and play matches. It is simply a time thing, win or lose. No matter how much you study it, total engagement is all you can give to make yourself better. Even then, your best won’t be good enough; somebody out there is always better than you at some point, or at some time of day; you can be the greatest fighting game player in the world (see: Daigo Umehara) and still get 4th place at the biggest tournament in the world (EVO 2011).

Furthermore, mechanics eventually take a backseat to mind games and yomi once both players are equal. What will my opponent do next? How do I counter his offense? What constitutes a good strategy in this matchup? You can be the worst character in the game (I’ll take Vega in SF4 as an example) and still beat top tier if you read the mind of your opponent. You can even lack execution skills and come out on top, or destroy the opponent’s confidence, or frustrate them. These are not part of the video game itself, but the meta-game affects the match at hands. It is a battle of two minds for dominance.

Honestly, fighting games are a weird phenomenon because they require such intense focus for such little reward; there’s no magical “cut-scenes” to tell you you are being rewarded for your work, as modern games tend to filter to us, or “endings” (yeah, they have endings, but who’s paying attention to fighting game stories, really? They’re the context for excellent art design and mechanics; aesthetics serves mechanics, not the other way around) that we care about. There is only the fight.

Can you think of another game type that is, in itself, intrinsically rewarding?

Check out this video from the Tougeki qualifiers. Note the spacing, control, and pace of the match. Watch one character, then the other. You’ll see a LOT of decisions are going on all nearly effortlessly. The beginning of the second round has nearly no attacks being made. The two opponents, who basically went into an all-out melee on the first round, temper themselves in the second. The Noel player has obviously realized his approach last match was too reckless. Both are trying to “bait” the opponent to attack by throwing out pokes – fast, safe moves with long range – to eke out a combo. The Tsubaki player, noting the Noel player’s penchant for airdashes, uses 2CC to get a good deal of damage AND get charge – invaluable for Tsubaki’s more damaging combos. You can tell the first round already displaced the Noel player, who throws out random attacks in hopes of victory. This gives Tsubaki easy combo opportunities. Noel tries a Burst to get out of the combos, but it doesn’t allow for a comeback, and Tsubaki takes the match convincingly. You can see from Round One to Two that one player’s dominating performance has led to their win. Noel got too aggressive in the first round and paid for it. Since Noel is a rush-down character, that’s what she should be doing, but she was entirely predictable, allowing Tsubaki an easy win.

As you can see, two levels of play are going on here. This intensity lends itself to the idea of “flow”. complete and utter engagement in an activity. All your brainpower is involved. It’s really an amazing feeling to perform a difficult combo in a match with absolute no difficulty or reservations. Hard work, in fighting games, is rewarded. But let your guard down for a second (as in, a pet stumbles across your gaze) and you can be on the end of a total beatdown. Fighting games are what video games are all about – overcoming obstacles and reaching goals (in this case, set as “total victory in all matches”, but everybody has to start somewhere).

Why are theologians always talking about narrative in video games? That’s not what they’re about at all! Anyone who plays them – seriously, of course – knows that we play them to challenge ourselves and become better at the game in question, to dominate and master. Multiplayer games give an infinite value for that reason. Fighting games work because of this. Some “RPG”s, not all, fulfill this criteria. The rest, for all intents in purposes, is just background noise; all that is really, intrinsically there is the Game itself. It’s an extension of the human will and desire to dominate and press one’s will on others.

That might sound antithetical to Christianity, of course, but I think it is a case of directing human nature towards a more desirable end, pleasure. I don’t mean pleasure in the sense you might be thinking. That’s for another day, though.

Please, leave comments on this article if you agree/disagree, whatever; I welcome some discussion.

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From → Video Games

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