I’m in love with the idea of being good at fighting games: the one-versus-one nature of the combat and the inherent technicality of the games appeals to something primal in me, no doubt linked to something as pathetic and petty as wishing to one-up someone else – the desire to display a show of skill to an extent that outstrips that similar skill demonstrated by another.It’s important to note that I merely like the idea of being good at these games: I lack even the most basic of understanding of some of the concepts of the games. With the recent stripping out of Games for Windows Live from the PC port of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, I have decided that it is time that I actually attempt to make real a long held dream of mechanical competence. I have no doubt that the biggest stumbling block in the first instance is likely to be my own hand-eye co-ordination.
Something that I alluded to earlier was the appeal of technicality in fighting games: taking the plural of anecdote to be data, I came to the conclusion that the perfect place to find this technicality would be SSFIV:AE, being as it is the widest played and widely considered “best” current generation game in its genre. From a brief skimming of a fighting game wiki, there appear to be a number of systems with esoteric names such as “white damage”, “crouch delay” and “focus attack dash cancels” that I’ll need to get my head around to even have an intermediate understanding of the game’s operation. Fantastic; what I’m looking for. Being a staunch believer in empirical testing of theories I may have about how to best go about things and the concept of Bayesian inference, it seemed a good idea to me to just go ahead and attempt a match online to see how I fared from this pseudo-virginal state against a real human being playing the game on the other side.
The answer to that particular question was “not well; not well at all.”
While I had no expectation of success – in fact, I had nothing in my mind except for the acceptance that I was indeed about to have various parts of my anatomy handed to me in a random order via the medium of competitive fighting game – the exact method by which my dreams of fighting game success were to be crushed was one that I was not expecting: I was unable to be matched with another player for an online fight. Whether this was because it was 3AM GMT when I was attempting to do this, and most people with sense in quite a few time zones would have better ideas involving sleep is a matter to be discussed for the ages, but I know when to take my minor blessings: I headed over to the Training mode to see what I could work out without inflating more competent players’ egos.
Picking from the roster was an exercise, for the most part, in vanity: I don’t know nearly enough about the game to make a choice that could be considered in any real way “informed”, so shying away from Ryu and Ryu-alikes and Dhalsim (as heroes I played in my youth in Street Fighter Alpha 3), I decided to go with Rose, a fortune teller who really enjoys fighting with her scarf. It takes all sorts, I guess. A quick look at the command list and I set about trying to make sure I could consistently perform the special moves against a stationary and all-too-co-operative CPU opponent.
The think that becomes immediately apparent is that I have been spoiled by traditional “3D” fighters such as Tekken and Soul Calibur, where pretty much any string of button inputs results in what the game would consider a “combo.” SFIV appears to be something that is far more dependent upon the timing of button presses and a concept of internal coherence as to which moves can follow other moves than the aforementioned series. While this no doubt is part of the “technicality” that I was seeking in a game, it’s yet another roadblock to overcome.
Even just messing around with a CPU opponent who does not move, the appeal of the game to me has become incredibly apparent: there is a lot that can be done with the fairly extensive verb set that SFIV provides to the player. The difficulty in all of this comes in actually trying to put two and two together to make four, rather than performing a one-two that lands one in a position that it is difficult to recover a match from.