(skip to the first line break if you want to read about the concept)
I’m currently watching the top 8 of the SFxT tournament at Evo 2015. It’s really awesome to see SFxT tournament play again! Psychoblue is on commentary, and during one of the matches he said (something to the effect of) “the game is coming to the end of its lifespan”. This comment kind of floored me.
I mean, he’s not wrong exactly. The game is hard to maintain, and tournaments are all but done for it. I spoke at length about the difficulty of fighting game longevity, and how SFxT’s biggest weakness is its lack of accessibility. As much as I love the game, I really want to move on, get a current gen console, and pick up new fighting games. I’ll always enjoy the game and play it from time to time, but the brevity of that is hardly sufficient.
For a long time, fans of the game have wrestled with the idea of making the game ‘hype’. SFxT certainly has a ton of presentation problems: forgettable/unlikeable music, unremarkable or awkward stages, elements such as quick combos and gems which are hardly explained about these days. That said, this game is not the first to suffer from glaring issues such as these, so I can’t give it that much of a hard time. Regardless, just something about SFxT is ‘unhype’, even without all those issues.
A conversation with different SFxT players has offered some perspective on this. What other fighting games get that this game doesn’t is the prevalence of threat. What I mean by that is the ‘danger’ is always in the game, but the threat isn’t. Look at Soul Calibur, BlazBlue, Dead or Alive, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat etc; there is a considerable threat at all times. The threat of being ringed out, the threat of losing a ton of health to an Ultra combo, the threat of being countered and being on the ropes. There’s an element of tension in the gameplay that is noticeable both while PLAYING and WATCHING.
The problem is, SFxT is too honest. Yes, that’s a cliche. We say that about King of Fighters XIII, almost jokingly at times. But it’s true. The game is fairly well balanced; you always feel in control, a match is never over until it’s over. That’s what makes playing it fun, but I can see how watching it isn’t fun for a lot of people.
As I said, there’s always the ‘danger’ in the game i.e. eating a big combo or getting hit by a set-up, but there’s no formidable ‘threat’. Threat is the potential OF danger. That’s the key.
Semantic word play aside, the crucial point, is that what SFxT’s missing is threat. That fear and tension that makes the whole experience exciting. But, it doesn’t need to come from everything being broken or unfair, it just needs to have the right balance of control and wackiness. So I got to thinking about it.
While I know Capcom has definitely abandoned this IP, what if there were a way for us, the community, to do something with the game? Modding on PC is powerful because it means you can push the design of a game in any direction while still maintaining what was in the original context. A wishful dream of mine led to the concept which I dubbed:
Project: Cross Xtremes
Or you could call it ‘Cross X’ or ‘Cross Tekken X’. Because who doesn’t love edgey titles with improper pluralization (or the reverse, such as ‘Armored Core For Answer’ which would have made more sense as ‘For Answers’ cause at least that’s grammatically correct…). Anyway, this is the name of what could (in theory) be the way to make a ‘hype’ version of the game.
What if there were a way to create a mod of SFxT, on PC that is, to mess with certain core settings of the game and emulate an all new system? Even if that’s not possible, even for the best modders, it’s been intriguing to think of new ideas for the system mechanics. If, in a perfect world, we could make SFxT ‘hype’, then perhaps this is how we should go about it.
I don’t believe, for a second, that anything fundamentally needs to be changed overall. Boost chains aren’t the devil everyone makes them out to be, nor are the combos themselves anything bad. However, I do think that at times the footsie game lacks a certain finesse beyond getting boost chains or combos. Here’s a completely crazy proposal:
> Increase ALL CASTS’ ground heavy punch/heavy kick by 10 damage.
Whoa JST, you crazy, right? Maybe. Think of it this way. In a lot of fighting games, normals can win entire matches because of the damage they do. In SFxT, combos meant that normals had to do a bit less damage, and that was fair. But it also meant that the ground game wasn’t as exciting from a purely normal button standpoint. If every character’s heavy button option did just 10 damage more, we’d see a much scarier neutral game. Hence, the ‘threat’ we are looking for. I wouldn’t want any other normal button damage to be increased.
I’m crazy but not stupid. There has to be a balance for that. Characters shouldn’t be able to just swing those buttons for free. I believe that, like with SFV and other games, heavy buttons on block should be more punishable as a result. Both on block and whiffed. A heavy button should be a guess, a punish, or in a combo, and with extra damage it shouldn’t be a go-to option. That way, you’re not free to just throw out the button from any range and expect to get away with it.
Don’t get me wrong. Combo damage will sky-rocket. SFxT is already a 2 combo game, and it could become a 1.5 combo game with my suggestion. Maybe the scaling could be adjusted to compensate for this. However, it’s a price to pay to increase the threat and increase the hype. People love high damage games with tons of risk. Long combos tend to be unfavorable outside of combo videos. SFxT is a high damage game already, but that’s not the public impression from the past. But obviously, this is all conjecture and brainstorming and I welcome any criticism.
Throws & Wakeup:
This is an easy one. If throws aren’t hard knockdowns (just like in SFV, and most fighting games for that matter), it means less breaks in the gameplay and much more active play. It creates new room for set-ups and split decision making. Do I quick rise and think of a wakeup option? Or do I delay my wakeup instead? Do I roll if they’re not in grab range? And so on. I’ve never been a fan of hard knockdown throws, particularly in SFIV, and one thing I loved in Omega mode and the little I played of SFV was being able to quick-rise throws. That’s just how I see it.
In fact, I believe that if nothing except super arts, cross arts and cross cancels did a hard knockdown, that would help the overall flow of a match. Instead of a game of cat and mouse where you can just be hit with a crouching roundhouse over and over, making it so that you can instantly get up keeps the action going. It means more options for the defender, and more things to think about for the attacker.
SFV had the right idea with this; a feature which so many fighting games have but SFIV doesn’t, and it was a carry-over to SFxT. The faster the action, the better, but we can still have the option not to quick rise, so people can take the time to think if they want.
This to me is the most important. Not just because Pandora is one of my favorite mechanics of all time (and I’ve made a ridiculous amount of videos about it), but because I know enough to see why it’s one of the game’s biggest stumbling blocks. When a mechanic that’s central to not just the gameplay, but also the story of the game, goes under-used/unused for 90% of matches, that’s a waste. I have argued chapter and verse that I believe Pandora is fair, and I stick by that. But if I could mod it, just as a test, here’s what I would do.
> Remove the death penalty
Now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain. Most people hear about the pandora mechanic and instantly think ‘that’s stupid’. Why use something that would effectively end the match for you? Even top players admit it’s very situational and that hinders its extended viability. I remember that in one or two of my Pandora videos, I received comments where people were actually intimidated by the mechanic because it seemed hard to execute and only really good players can do it, because the margin of error is too small. The situational nature of the mechanic is considerable.
Sure, you can make the case that most mechanics are situational, but the punishment for messing them up isn’t insta-death. Missing an alpha counter isn’t the end of the world. So while I don’t believe Pandora should just be X Factor, I too see how the death penalty puts people off. A potentially game winning mechanic should be, at the very least, accessible to even the worst player. Players shouldn’t be scared to utilize a game mechanic. BUT that doesn’t mean it should be free or easy.
Like I said, I’m crazy but not stupid. I recognize that Pandora killing you is harsh, but we can ease the harshness and just make it a fair penalty. Let me elaborate:
> Pandora has no death penalty
> Using Pandora grants you 1.15x damage, which you can also receive
> When the 10 second timer ends, your second character is gone. No switching
> You are unable to build meter
> Your health points remain at 25% after Pandora is over
See, THAT’S how you make the mechanic punishing without it being an instant loss. I thought of this when I considered mechanics such as Rage from Tekken and Instant Kill mode from Guilty Gear. The conditions surrounding these mechanics put the character in a compromised position and put the onus on them to finish the match. What they don’t do, however, is kill the character just for messing it up. Don’t get me wrong, those conditions mean you’ve all but lost. But you are still in the game. That sends a much better message than an insta-death.
With this, Pandora will still be a massive risk but the opinion of it will change. We could potentially see people use it more because now they won’t die. Yes, I get that there will be YOLO moments and people could Pandora at random, but the penalty is still high and you still have to use the mechanic properly to win. All I would want is that little extra push for people to think about using Pandora. How successful they are with it is a whole different story.
After careful consideration, I believe everything else is just fine. I wouldn’t want cross assault, super arts, cross cancels or gems to change. They have already received some adjustments in the ver. 2013 patch and I feel like they are the least problematic parts of the game. If you believe they need any changes, please let me know.
To re-iterate: with changes such as these, the game retains its core gameplay and continues to be SFxT without having to remove what makes it fun. But we increase the threat, we make players take bigger all-or-nothing risks, we drive the excitement up. In theory. Once again, this is all speculation and wishful thinking. I don’t, for a second, believe this would ever happen, but it’s nice to imagine it.
So what do you think? With changes like these in mind, would the game be better/more exciting? Or am I going to break a perfectly fair game?
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