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Monday
Aug222011

The Anti-Progress Attitude

Maybe read Archon Shiva's summary of this post first:

The way I read I, the original article had nothing against this release of Third Strike - he agreed with all design decisions that went into it, and I'm pretty sure David's not actually opposed to unlockable artwork. What he did oppose was the attitude of some players that tweaking an unbalanced game into a balanced one was a net loss. At no point was it hinted that the original balance shouldn't be part of the release, or even that a rebalanced mode should have been in: he just said he feels the proper reaction is "too bad they didn't have time/budget to add it, but that's life!", rather than "thank god we didn't get a rebalanced mode selectable at the title screen, that would have ruined everything!"

This review of SF3:3rd Strike Online at 1up.com should be considered shameful. It casually embraces an attitude that's damaging to the quality of games we get to play. What's so wrong with what's said there? This (emphasis added):

Do the developers make adjustments to characters like Chun-Li and Yun -- who are leaps and bounds more powerful than the rest of the cast -- rebalancing them as to give characters like Q, Sean, and Hugo a fighting chance? Some argue this would allow newer players to ease into the game and even provide a fresh take on the series, possibly revitalizing the competitive scene.

At the same time, if they make changes to the game, even the slightest rebalance, players such as myself who have literally been playing the game for 10 years now, might feel it's an inferior port and not play it at all -- opting to continue to fight it out at the arcades or even on the PlayStation 2.

It's great that Capcom made such an effort to translate the game to a modern console. It's great they used the only reasonable kind of networking for a fighting game (GGPO). Well, strike that. It would be shameful and embarrassing for any fighting game to not use it, so it's more of a "phew, they did an obvious thing right there." It's great they did an obvious thing right with the way the button configuration screen works. There's really a whole lot of positive stuff to say here, and I agree with those saying those positive things. BUT...

There's a problem: 3s is one of the worst balanced fighting games around. I mean that literally. It's hard to even come up with worse balanced fighting game than it, yet if you throw a stick at a pile of fighting games, you'll hit a better balanced game. James Chen had this to say in 2008 about the Evolution tournament results:

Street Fighter III: Third Strike - This year [2008], in the Top 8, we had Chun, Chun, Chun, Chun, Chun, and Yun. In 2007, we had Chun, Chun, Chun, and Chun. In 2006, we had Yun, Yun, Yun, Yun, Chun, Chun, and Chun. In 2005, we had Chun, Chun, Chun, Chun, Chun, Yun, and Yun. I don't think there's anything left to say about this game.

Yeah it's pretty appalling. It's laughable to think addressing this might make it an "inferior port." I think parrying making projectiles and zoning hardly matter is an even bigger problem, as is the shallow hit-confirm-into-super gameplay in general, but let's not even go there. Let's just imagine that stuff is all great. A game where two characters totally dominate is a problem. (Yes I know about Japan, but balance is clearly disastrous anyway.)

So what's the problem here? Is it that Capcom didn't make any effort to fix this problem? Well, sort of. I do think that's a problem, but if you follow my subtle point it's not actually the biggest problem. Maybe they did some business analysis on how much that would cost, how much testing it would take, and how much money the game would make, and they didn't like the result. (Though maybe they asked Floe what he thought and he said he'd rather play a brokeny game.)

Anyway, there's a much bigger problem than Capcom's decision here, and that problem is the reaction to it as exemplified in the 1up review. It's damaging to gaming to profess the anti-progress ideal that problems should be kept broken. Somehow this reviewer and many players think that it's a good thing that two characters dominate and other characters are comparatively worthless. Well, that's not ok. That should be fixed and you should demand it be fixed. It's exasperating to even have to say that because it's so obvious in any other context. Imagine if Blizzard discovered that Protoss vs. Zerg was an 8-2 match, but hey, the game's been around for a while so we're going to leave it! After all, it is possible for Koreans to win it sometimes. It's just so deep to have a wildly imbalanced matchups like that, and for the game to be dominated by it. Seriously though, it isn't. It's ridiculous to even say all that about Starcraft, as it would be for any other type of asymmetric game. But somehow a segment of the fighting game community has begun to cling to the idea that problems shouldn't be fixed.

Let's dispel the strawman response before it happens. "If you keep fixing things, players don't have to learn." Yes, there's truth in that and Blizzard is very conscious of it. They want to fix actual real problems with their games, but not fix every *claimed* problem. Fixing every claimed problem would mean flavor-of-the-month fixes, constant change for no real reason, and if any tactic becomes even slightly ok, bad players demand it be "fixed." Players would have trouble even developing strategies because constant changes would be happening under their feet all the time. I think that's bad, Blizzard thinks it's bad, and you think it's bad. So we can file this away as "it's not what we're talking about." What we are talking about is actual real problems, the ones that might make Protoss vs. Zerg a tragically problematic 8-2 matchup. You can bet they'd fix that and rightly so. Anyone "defending" keeping it 8-2 would look silly. And if anyone did make that defense, we'd wonder about their attitude if Blizzard announced that Protoss vs. Zerg was actually 5-5, but Blizzard plans to make it much more unfair in the future, slanting it to 8-2 in Zerg's favor to make the game more manly. Better game right? 

I hope we can fight against this bad mindset and create a community where we expect major problems to be fixed in games, at least when those problems are as huge as 3s's problems. I'm certainly glad Blizzard lives in that world, but over in fighting game land, we get reviewers congratulating a company for NOT fixing the balance in nearly the worst balanced game in the genre. This issue directly affects my own games as well. Yomi, luckily, remains better balanced than any fighting game I know of, so even though it's not perfect (nothing is), it's in great shape. Puzzle Strike, on the other hand, has shown itself to have less-than-desirable balance in a tournament setting. Still better than 3s, but not really good enough. I suppose it might help me financially if I were to take the attitude that these problems are great to have, and that it makes a game deep to have 1 or 2 playable characters and a bunch of trash characters. But I just can't do it because it makes no sense. So at great cost of time and money, I've worked with my playtesters to develop the "Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack" that adds several non-gameplay-affecting components to the game, as well as a bit of new gameplay...and...balance fixes put all the characters on equal footing. More details and pictures of it will come soon. I really hope Puzzle Strike players are going to be happy about improving and progressing the game, even though 1up's reviewer "might feel it's an inferior port and not play it at all."

Also see this followup post about loving games and allowing them to be the best they can be.

Reader Comments (95)

I agree that 3s is unbalanced and I don't like the game. I would rather see a rebalanced version. However, I think the simple truth that you may have overlooked is that Capcom would never have made a "4th strike". 3s:OE is exactly what it claims to be: 3s with online capabilities. It should not be considered an opportunity for progress because it explicitly isn't one. Capcom felt that the demand for a re-balance was not as high as the demand for a faithful port (this was probably also part of an equation that included profits vs. costs).

So why is the demand for a re-balance so low? 3s certainly gets a lot of hate for its balance issues but, as you said yourself, the core system and gameplay of the Street Fighter III series is the real dividing factor. People that like 3s don't care about the balance. Those that don't like 3s wouldn't even like a rebalanced 3s because it would still revolve around the system and principles that define SF III.

If Capcom is going to re-balance a game, I'd prefer them to use those resources on a game whose re-balance I'd actually care about.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohnnyChimpo

Aren't you the guy who single-handedly killed Super Turbo?

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCome on

Johnny: interesting point. Yeah the gameplay being so different in general is a dividing factor, but I don't think that really is much of answer. The attitude taken in the review is still equally bad regardless of whether 3s has really similar or really different gameplay to other fighting games. The underlying problem is a mysterious "we prefer not to have things improved" attitude. When that attitude catches on, the result is that companies don't improve games, and we (the sane people who prefer better things to worse things) all lose.

Come on: so you advocate not improving balance? That's a pretty shitty attitude, and exactly the problem I wrote about. Nice anonymous trolling though. Anyway, I didn't single-handedly improve the balance in Super Turbo. That took a lot of players all contributing ideas and testing over the coarse of about a year and a half.

August 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I think you might've misconstrued the review. If someone balances 3rd strike for the better? Big Pimpin'. If someone rebalances 3rd strike and it causes an unintentional domino effect that fucks up the rest of the game? Not big pimpin'.

In any case, since HD Remix had both options, it's clear that a rebalance was simply a matter of a lack of time, expenses and dedication that were put towards other things. Not ruining a great game since you could always leave the old balance in there.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Mechs

its GGPO (typo), by the way. And Fuck 3s..

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranon

I don't know about your "not ruining" terminology there. It would be hard to do any worse than Chun, Chun, Chun, Yun, Yun. It's sort of ruined by default, and slight adjustments could make it less ruined or not-ruined. Also, I think I understand the review perfectly well? The reviewer is clearly very against any changes because he views DIFFERENCE as bad. This is a really extreme case where the original game is so poorly balanced that it would be unreasonable to expect change to lead to worse balance...it would hardly even be possible.

August 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Reminder: this is for real comments, not hate-filled substance-less trolling. You can use the forums for that.

August 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Let's be honest the 3SOE exhibition at EVO put the crowd to sleep along with the stream monsters. This game is DOA, it's history repeating itself. There's only so many times they can bust out the daigo parry to make the game look "cool"

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReality Check

We are messing with people who like a shit game in the first place. What did you expect exactly?

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertataki

It's a review. I was giving the reader two different perspectives to see why or why not Capcom would balance the game. While I'm happy they kept it the same, this wasn't an essay advocating that developers should not balance new games or even older games. I'm just happy to know that the community at large got the game they were hoping for. Sure, there are a few out there that play with the idea of tinkering around with the balance of the game, but most of us just want to be able to play the same game we've been playing for years on modern consoles over GGPO.

Is that so bad?

You really have had no involvement with the 3s community so I am not even sure why you give a shit. You obviously hate the game anyway, I'm surprised you're not jumping for joy that it's still unbalanced, praising Capcom for not giving the overpowered characters the retuning they "need".

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhaunts

I love 3rd Strike and I love the parry system. Admittedly, I am not a competitive fighter, as the mid-west is lacking in tourney scenes and arcades, so my opinion is probably less valued than the pro-player's.

As far as your response goes, I cannot agree more. This game would have benefitted from a major rebalance, but I have to wonder if there would have even been an audience for Capcom's effort. It may very well have ended up like HD Turbo, totally trampled under bigger releases (though I just imagine SFII's dated mechanics being somewhat responsible for it's short life). Hell, it still might be trampled under, but at least I can play it on my Television now, as opposed to ROMS and Emulators on the PC.

If there were to be a rebalance, though, how would you have done it? The parry system, as you stated, destroys zoning and projectile based characters. Would all the characters have to become rushdown in order for the game to be balanced?

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPride

I guess part of the problem may be that with a game as hideously unbalanced as 3s, is it possible to rebalance the game and leave it in a recognizable state? If the balance issues are as bad as claimed, then I could well believe that the state of balance in that game was largely unsalvagable. I'm not defending that, merely pointing out that I doubt the decision to address the balance issues, or to not address those issues, was as simple as: "We can't be bothered"

Also, one of the tricky things with re-releases is that a large percentage of your expected customer base is likely to be people who already bought the original game back in the day, and will expect to get a possibly slightly prettified port of the original game. I could well believe that should a long-term player of the game pick up the port and find it now balanced would feel as though they have been deceived. Whether that is a reasonable stance for them to take, I don't know. To be honest I would always rather play a more balanced game than a less balanced one, especially in an even vaguely competitive environment. But a large quantity of people buying 3s will be wanting to re-buy the same game that they already own, not a version of that game that has significantly changed, even if that change is for the better.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbeachnik

James Chen was wrong, there's never been a top 8 with all Chuns and Yuns, for one. Secondly, having a top 8 consisting of only certain characters is not necessarily indicative of their strength even though it's a good pointer, so I'll give you that. However, if you'll look... the first 3 years 3S was at EVO a certain person took the number one spot. Do you think it was the character rather than the player that caused this? If you think so, go look at KO's Yang. He'd likely still have gotten first regardless. Let's also note that Chun-Li and Yun's only real severe advantage matchups are against the worst few characters in the game and everyone has advantage matchups against them. People talk about Chun-Li and Yun in regards to 3S balance but what they REALLY need to be looking at is the bottom of the tier/matchup list and see that the lowest tiered characters are actually the terribly balanced ones. The top 10 characters actually make a fairly balanced game overall.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBurlin

Oh and I wanted to add, that you know, I try to keep it pretty brief for these reviews considering the audience is average gamers, not game designers as yourself. One thing I wish I would have touched on, something I have before, is at this point, YES keep 3s the same. but..

They should release a new version if they are going to make changes. To me it seems a little silly to mess around with 3s in any capacity after all these years. Instead they just need to release a new 2d sprite based game. Hell, id love it if it was based on SF3s mechanics as well, that would be awesome.

To me the easy, lazy answer is "rebalance it and see what happens" when we all know what we really want is real progress which is a new sprite based 2d game that is made from the ground up to bring in new players and receive balance changes.

Anyhow, dont mean to spam your comments section here, just wanted to add in that last bit. :)

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhaunts

This is a strange one. I'm a huge 3s fan. It's the only fighting game I'll play. And I am real happy to see this port.

That said, the game is in fact very unbalanced. But, I don't know that it's a fair thing to really say about it. Each character has such a strong basic set of tools that's shared between them (parry, blocks, overheads, throws, etc), that the lack of balance stems from the elements that make the characters unique. What I mean by this, is that while it's true that Chun-Li and Yun have an advantage over others, that advantage is not a Rock to their Scissors. It's more like a pile of Rocks with one Scissors vs another identical pile of Rocks with one Paper.

Those imbalances that make Chun and Yun such strong characters are something that would only give the VERY experienced players an edge. Which is why you only see it in the old hardcore 3s tournaments. Locally though, even in US tournaments, you see many more characters being used.

But more importantly, in casual play in the arcades, and on GGPO, you see almost all the characters being used. Reason being that the average player simply doesn't have the experience in the game to be able to squeeze that edge that Chun and Yun give.

The whole point is only relevant in very high play levels, and in tournaments.

So then when considering the PS3/360 port of 3s, yeah, they could have gone in and rebalanced it. But that would have only made some tournament out there more interesting every once in a while. For the rest of the 99% of the time when casual/average players play, it would be completely moot as those players weren't capable of taking advantage of the imbalance to begin with. Spend some time and money rebalancing 3s, maybe piss off some fans, and the result is an improvement in 1% of the games, OR just leave it as is and be just the same?

I assume someone at Capcom did the math on that and figured it's easier and more cost-effective to just leave it the same.

Now, if they ever want to do a fourth strike that's completely rebalanced, I'd be the first to cheer.

My 2cents.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBigJohn

Your comparison to Star Craft is flawed. Star Craft 2 is an actively supported game and regularly receives updates, which makes it more comparable to Street Fight IV. Brood War, on the other hand, hasn't received a patch in over 10 years and it's still the most popular game/sport in Korea. The balance of races in the game has changed constantly over the years as new strategies and metagame shifts are discovered. If Blizzard decided to rerelase Brood War do you think they would rebalance the game and undo 10 years of theory and risk alienating their entire fan base? No, they would not and that is why they made Star Craft 2.

Let's look at Chess. It's generally accepted in Chess that White has an advantage over Black and it's theorized that if Chess were ever solved then the best that Black could ever do is force a draw. Every time a new strategy is discovered that gives Black an advantage within a few years White will have developed ways to neutralize that advantage. Because of this many people have attempted to create new versions of chess with altered rules, altered pieces, and altered boards. Be it 3-D Chess, 4 player Chess, or even Bughouse Chess none has ever been accepted as more than a brief diversion to explore when temporarily bored with Chess.

3rd Strike is, essentially a dead game. The only people that still play it are the hardcore fans and they're the ones that are going to still be playing 3sOE once the casuals give up on it and move on to other, newer games. If Capcom were to rebalance the game then they would risk alienating all the hardcore fans and then who would they be left with to play the game?

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter名無し

I agree with Sirlin to the extent that 'unbalanced gameplay' should not be reworded to sound like a positive attribute which might attract consumers. If you extoll the virtues of having the game 'untouched from the original version' and say it's a 'perfect arcade port', but then don't tell people the original arcade port was basically broken, it almost seems like false advertising (if not in a legal sense, then in a moral sense).

I think Haunts just put his foot in his mouth and tried desperately in his comments above to sort of take it out. But that's besides the point.

On another point, what did you (Sirlin) think of SSF4AE? I read that Ono and the other developers purposely 'unbalanced' the game to have 'heroes' and 'underdogs' rather than a more rounded out cast as was the case with the previous version (Super sf4). Now, Yun, Feilong, Yang, and two or three other characters appear to have unbalanced advantages. Is it possible that the sf4 team believed that an arcade version would only appeal to japanese players (the original intended audience of that version) if the game were more like SF3 (unbalanced)?

It's interesting to note that if this were true, Capcom made a mistake. The mistake is evident now that they are making a revision to AE for 2012. (which I'm assuming will balance it out so that other characters have a real chance). This is at least a sign of progress for SF4, notwithstanding sf3 was left untouched.

Thoughts?

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSmidge

Sirlin: the program is, you are using logic to deal with a group of people who view their beliefs as dogma/religion. You can't reason with fanatics.

Great post BTW. It's funny how much one of my friends claimed to not like you philsophically, yet he comes to the exact same conclusion.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlstein

I'm not sure if there's too much of a point to rebalancing 3rd Strike for many of the reasons already remarked upon upthread.

I do agree that there's a generally poor attitude in the fighting game community that places nearly mystical, religious reverence on a number of games from the mid-to-late 90s. This religiosity causes players to warp their own perceptions and convince themselves that any game, *or* any apparent ideology (such as design ideology) that deviates a micron from "the golden age" is pure garage and not worth being considered.

One thing that the hardcore in the FGC often subscribe too is a "tough guy" arcade mentality that evolved over the last ten years due to ironically, the death of fighting game development (from Capcom) and the death of the arcades in the west. Fighting games are the only competitive genre left behind in terms of constant upkeep and competitive balance adjustment. This is because the fighting game's original home was the arcade cab, and most other competitive games settled into the more hardcore but flexible PC world.

PC gamers take it for granted that their games can, and will, be modified, updated, and adjusted. Blizzard themselves helped get people used to this idea a decade ago. But FG players are often stuck in the mentality of a 90's arcade goer, where the cab is a fixed, immutable entity. A stone for the player to throw themselves against see if they (not the game) break. If an arcade cab game has a horrible flaw, "you deal with it" and devise house rules or a meta game to attempt to either rebalance for the flaw or at least keep things interesting. And it seems in the last decade, the culture of dwindling hardcore arcade dives strengthened this attitude. You had to tough it out and "hang" to prove you had grit.

So, this generation of players sees a game get "patched" or updated frequently and they freak out - regardless of whether the update was justified or not. To them, this is a perversion. It's "wimping out". They rationalize that anyone who becomes a fighting game player today is inherently inferior to the OG - "dat true players".

These are the growing pains of the FGC. Fighters nearly died out in the west, and now they've been rebooted. It was inevitable that ossified attitudes of a remaining nugget of hardcore fanatics would respond very negatively towards such drastic change in their landscape.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMoribund Cadaver

I pretty much agree with Sirlin here. It's hard to defend the lack of a re-balance. A whole new version with widespread changes (a 4th Collision or something) would indeed have been costly to produce, and probably not paid off for Capcom financially as well as the actual release. However, would it have really been so difficult/cost-intensive for the devs to just make some changes to damage/stun/health/meter-length? These are all things that can be changed without affecting gameplay techniques, and are also changes that a single programmer could do in a short time.

I will still buy 3SOE to show support for the feature set (the usage of proper button configs, netcode, replay saving/uploading, useful training modes, etc). I also think the game is fun to play at a semi-casual level -- i.e. as a diversion for competitive fighting gamers who "main" other games. But I would never dedicate time to play 3S with the goal of tournament competition, simply because of the balance issues.

August 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNybb
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