Rooting for the underdog is often quite popular, and comebacks can also be popular. Not just in video games, but even within popular culture like action films and other media. Fighting games have always toyed with the underdog and comeback concepts in various ways with varying results, even to the point of implementing actual mechanics designed to promote comebacks. Whether it’s a fighting game or a fictional novel though, it can be implemented both the right way and the wrong way. In fighting games, the underdog is typically the low tier character who’s not favored in an array of matchups. This is why fighting game designers have always intentionally made some characters stronger than others, not just for variety in order to avoid homogeneity, but also to create the underdogs on purpose. Though in recent years with tier-balancing and comeback-mechanics the underdog could be anyone, or it could be no one at all. Still, pop-culture critics often point out that the Deus Ex Machina can completely ruin an otherwise enjoyable story, and the same is basically true for a fighting game's comeback-mechanic if implemented just as poorly.

Unlike with other forms of media though, the players of fighting games are experiencing the story as it unfolds, so poorly designed mechanics can not only lead to simple disappointment but also frustration and possibly community-wide disinterest in the game itself.

As an extreme example, the Touhou fighting game called Scarlet Weather Rhapsody had to patch an extremely poorly implemented come-back mechanic in order to fix it. Originally, supers could be done at the single push of a button while holding any direction. Therefore, it was too easy to option-select, or even just mash, on the super-button while blocking during situations where you’d either block or reversal. To exacerbate this even further, some supers were fairly safe or even unpunishable while still being incredibly powerful. They fixed this by making it so you could not be blocking before doing a super, and balanced the punishability and damage of some supers. But the point is that this was originally a bad idea that was made a bit less of a bad idea.

The key ingredient seems to be just how easy it is to rely on, contrast with how baitable/punishable it is by the opponent. The comeback is made more appealing when the underdog has to really work for a victory; hence this is why the Deus Ex Machina is not as appealing, there’s nothing attractive about a free win. It’s exciting when it seems like a player really deserved the win, but a letdown when it seems like the other player “got robbed” of a victory.

However, if a comeback mechanic is implemented around the idea that it not only has a very large risk-reward ratio (meaning, very high risk and balanced reward payout) but it’s also not particularly easy to pull off, then it’s not only justifiable when it happens but commendable when successful. That isn't to say it should be useless, but rather just keeping in mind that there needs to be room for skill from both players. It's skillful when an aggressor is able to bait out and punish an opponent's comeback-mechanic, but also skillful when an underdog can land a comeback-mechanic despite the low odds of actually being able to land it and the risk involved when failing to land it.

In my opinion, comeback-mechanics have the potential to be good and enjoyable. If you're not able to avoid getting hit by comeback-mechanics and you're getting owned up because of them then you need to step up your game, yet likewise if you're not able to land a comeback-mechanic and getting steamrolled because you continue to misuse them then you need to step up your game. However, the mechanic itself also needs to be implemented well for it to even be enjoyable in the first place.

- Copyright © Xenozip.


Arjun said...

Your post reminds me of my SFA3 days on ggpo. Some people would get SO mad and rage quit because sometimes I was able to land a v-ism combo and win the match after they would go almost the whole entire match dominating me in every other respect. If they only knew how many months it took me to get somewhat decent with v-vega's VCs, though I can sympathize with their rage, lol.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter how long you've practiced the variable combos. It's still broken.

Arjun said...

I don't think it is particularly broken... you can always bait VC activations or even counter an activation by activating yourself on reaction.... I think. So VC is very beatable (I don't know if Xenozip would agree it is punishable though)... doesn't make for a varied game (pretty much always forced to use V-ism). If you find yourself at the end of an infinite though, I think, it is mostly due to having put yourself in a bad situation in the first place. Sorry for derailing the topic of discussion.