Defining Immersion: The Fighting Genre

By Adam Ma on January 19, 2010, 10:24PM EDT

How to properly capture and engage the average gamer is something that companies have been struggling with for a very long time. As tastes between individuals vary greatly, it's natural that each and every person will define immersion differently. Gaming Union covered a keynote speech by Yannis Mallat at DIG London 2009, in which he described how Ubisoft tests to ensure their games thoroughly have the ability to capture an audience before moving into full development. However even once a game has a core mechanic down that doesn't mean it'll be an inherent success.

In the past few years, gamers have seen more of a focus on the topic of immersion – what exactly it will take to draw in players to a captivating experience. From the more 'realistic' shooters, to the more cinematic RPGs, every single genre is attempting to refine itself in order to deliver the best possible experience. So what has changed in the past decade or so for video games? This first gaming dissection will take a look at the genre of fighting games. What has changed, and why if you've never been interested before you may just want to reconsider and take a second look.

Many people have considered the fighting game genre to be a niche experience. Either you're good at them, or you're not. It‘s definitely understandable how this stigma came around, as regardless of the game of choice, they all shared similar limitations. Playing required you to have friends situated locally who were good at the game, who could sit around for hours mastering the same move lists, and who enjoyed the same controllers. Worst of all, the major bonus to fighting games, tournaments, were extremely difficult to enjoy. If you were in the wrong city, state, or lacked immediate transportation major tournaments were extremely difficult to partake in. Unlike Japan, where the arcade machine is a lot easier to find, most gamers found themselves enjoying a fighting game under very selective circumstances.

Guilty Gear Arc SystemsSo what has changed since then, and why is this genre even worth looking at today? Immersion in a fighting game is all about capturing a particular spirit. Commentators at EVO (a popular fighting game tournament) have stated that it isn't the character you're fighting, it's the player. Connecting these players is the real challenge, and over the past two years, serious refinements have been made to connect fighting aficionados across the globe. Taking a step away from their more complicated series, Guilty Gear, Arc System Works developed BlazBlue. Featuring the ability to use special attacks without having to memorize the complicated inputs, the game immediate bridges the gap between the 'good' and the 'bad'. The popular King of Fighters series took a similar route (although admittedly going too far) in creating a simpler fighter, shaving down many extensive move lists while keeping as many of the series' iconic characters as they felt was possible.

Now broadening the audience doesn't particularly mean that you've gained success. It simply means that you've given people more equal odds at learning a game's difficulty curve. Connecting that audience is the key to success, and therein lies the next big hurdle for fighting games: netcode. This large step into simulating another player being right beside you has worked wonders for the gaming community. While Street Fighter 4 and Blazblue have notably good netcode (programming that makes online games have less lag between player), other far less advanced games are taking advantage of this. GGPO (or, Good Game Peace Out) is a program designed to use emulator technology on the computer to allow online play across the globe. This provides players the unique opportunity to enjoy the precursors of today's fighting games on a tremendous scale. Both Xbox Live and PlayStation Network have also contributed to the community in a similar fashion as companies such as Capcom have given in to fan requests, such as the addition of Marvel vs Capcom 2 for online play.

While less inherently complicated characters and more opportunities to play against friends all help redefine the genre, the real crowning achievement of today's fighting games is player feedback. More and more games are taking advantage of the natural communities that are created by players; the result is a sequel that genuinely feels like it addresses important issues. The crowning achievement of this so far would be Capcom's upcoming Super Street Fighter IV, which features not just a host of new characters but also a wide variety of changes to the game. New mechanics such as wall bouncing, new moves, and retooled move lists will be featured as standard to most 'sequels' but even larger then that are the tournament hosting capabilities of the new game.

Super Street Fighter IV CapcomThis constant stretch of balance and rebalance on top of new means of connecting and playing other opponents across the globe is the definition of a fighting game's immersion. Some popular fighting game sequels have fallen short of this due to poor online integration (Super Smash Brothers Brawl, King of Fighters XII) while others have raised the bar with positive acclaim (Tekken, Street Fighter). But the fact remains that whether the game ends with success or failure, each new fighting game has tried something to make itself more accessible, player friendly, and definitive in its own right.

Although the past few years have been full of new fighting game releases, there is still plenty to be excited for in the near future. New updated versions of Street Fighter and Blazblue are joined by a completely new title, Tatsunoko vs Capcom, and each of these games promises a radically different experience from the others.  Those who have never experienced the simple thrill of a fighting game will find no better time than now. Companies are more receptive to include changes that make their titles fun and engaging for new players but also deeply complex for more serious tournament-goers. They are looking to develop these titles quickly, to keep their fan base happy and to keep up with the speed that other parts of the industry are producing additional content. Most importantly they are looking to imitate the best parts of the fighting genre, the multiplayer thrill of facing a real live opponent, and bring that to your home. With so much radical design change happening and with so many different ways to play, this is the perfect time to get into the genre, especially if you've never considered it before.

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