File this one under “projects for a 25th hour in the day” . . . .
Years ago I saw a really excellent post—I can’t remember whether it was on Shoryuken’s forums or elsewhere—regarding the challenges of learning fighting games. The poster argued that one of the major issues for new fighting game players is that the buttons aren’t labeled in a useful way; they have thematic names that don’t express what they should actually be used for. At the time it was difficult to resolve that in a satisfactory way, but it strikes me that this problem could definitely be addressed with current technology.
The concern goes like this: most fighting game characters have attacks that serve defined tactical purposes. By and large they will have a long-range strike that controls the opponent’s movement; a quick and unpredictable attack that probes for weaknesses in the opponent’s defenses; a slow but powerful smash that’s meant as the last move in combos. One of the major hurdles for players who are new to the genre is recognizing that the moves available have these specific uses.
Part of what raises that hurdle so high is that the various attack buttons aren’t labeled “control,” “probe for weakness,” and “smash.” They’re “medium kick,” “light kick,” and “heavy punch,” which sound thematic but don’t do anything to explain how they ought to be used. New players thus find themselves without the information necessary to make decisions about which attack to throw out, and are obliged either to button-mash or to figure it out on their own. Either way, it’s a substantial barrier to clear before they can start to get full value out of the game.
Moreover, the knowledge a new player gains from one character isn’t transferable to another. Millia controls with kick and probes for weaknesses with crouching kick; Ky controls with slash and probes for weaknesses with kick. Picking a new character means starting from about 50%; the new player (hopefully) knows that different moves have different applications, but has to figure out which move is for which use all over again.
When controllers just had whatever markings they had, and the labels needed to be appropriate for all characters, this was a very difficult problem to solve. However, today we can do context-sensitive controls. Imagine something like this:
The controller is a tablet or smartphone. Instead of being labeled light, medium, and heavy kick, buttons have descriptive labels appropriate to the character. Not only is there a button marked “control opponent’s movement,” it’s the correct button for that character. New players immediately see that each attack is for a specific purpose.
What’s more, the buttons change. If the opponent jumps, attacks that aren’t useful in that situation have their buttons greyed out—the attack will still work, but it’s clear that that’s a bad button to press right now. Attacks that are useful will stay their normal color and will get new labels, like “anti-air.” In single player mode, the game can be paused so that players can look down at the controller and find out what might be useful to do.
Fighting games are, I feel, one of the hardest genres to get into—but also one of the most rewarding. Context-sensitive control labeling would make it a lot easier to access both what a specific character can do and how new players should think about their moves generally. And it’s so doable now . . . if there’s time . . . .