Prelude to a Diss (Some preliminary remarks on Balance)

In these opening remarks, well try and come up with some rough definitions for this commonly used term, and investigate whether its something we actually want after all…

Ever see one of those stories where some goober gets 3 wishes, and ends up screwing himself over (i.e. very old folk stories, sitcoms, and from X-Files episodes to any number of movies, including the recent “Bedazzled” (infinitely inferior to the 1968 version))? Its always the same thing- the goober gets excited, then makes the wish without having really thought through the consequences of what hes asking for. Sometimes its just a dumb play on words that leads to the downfall, but in the best versions, the guy actually does get what he asked for- its just not quite as good as he hoped it would be. Lets try granting one of those scrub wishes, and see what happens…

One of the historically biggest complaints about Capcom games is that theyre “unbalanced”. Though the term is unhelpfully vague (as, youll notice, are most of the terms popular with scrubs and whiners), I think its basically meant as a complaint about how some characters seem so much better than others- a certain character is “overpowered”. And being overpowered leads to a game being unbalanced. Or something like that.

One of the best ways to help clear up a vague term is by looking at its contrast. Well, if “unbalanced” = bad, then “balanced” must = good, right? So to banish the scourge of unbalanced games, the scrub rubs the magic lamp and wishes for a “balanced” game…

So how do we get balance? We dont have much to go on yet. Historically, the question of “balance” didnt really come up. Why not? Its just side-stepped, because in most older games, both sides are identical. Like chess. You have the same pieces, the same options. So does this mean that the scrubs wish will be satisfied by both sides being identical? You and your opponent both have to play exactly the same character? Then I give you… Karate Champ! … “Hey! I didnt mean the characters had to be the same!” Oh. Okay. Well then what did you mean? Maybe the scrub can use their second wish to fix this one up- they of course want balance AND a lot of characters.

Okay- but before we move past the idea of identical sides as an obvious source of balance, we should note something else- There is one difference between the black and white sides in chess- namely that white gets to move first. This is, of course, enough to make all the difference in the world at high levels- conventional wisdom puts white at a substantial advantage simply because of this, even as they remain identical in all other respects. What does this show? For our purposes, take it as an illustration that a general background of “balance” acts to put an enormous emphasis on whatever differences there happen to be- no matter how small.

Because fighting game characters (as individuals) lack the complexity of a set of chessmen, establishing a background of “sameness” in fighting games is for these reasons, usually a disaster. Witness games like the later Mortal Kombat installments, KI2- true dogs of the fighting game world. In an MK-style game, even though you have a lot of characters, they all play in a depressingly similar fashion. Everyone has the same basic moves and options. The difference between them (aside from their different heads, and cool “personalities”) boils down to some characters simply having better versions of that same set of moves. Whee! They also mix it up with “different” specials. Of course, these also fall into depressingly similar categories (the crummy projectile, the teleport punch, etc.), and of the ones that arent uselessly suicidal, there are some that are just obviously better than the rest. The characters that end up being the winners are the ones with the best versions of what everyone else has too. This leads to a terribly flat game, and while it may seem “balanced”, its not actually an improvement- everything is just dumbed-down. Ironically, these simplistic attempts at balance, while intended to help the game, end up hurting it by making all the characters that much less interesting. It merely forces you to play in a far more restricted manner, to squeeze that tiny margin of superiority out of your remarkably similar moves.

This is a waste of time, and is at odds with the basic motivation for having had different characters in the first place. Why have a lot of characters when they all play the same way? Better to simply have a few (or even one) far more developed characters. Chess trades multiple characters for incredible depth in one, and though theres nothing wrong with that (ask me about my idealized “All Ryu v Ryu” SF4), thats not what the scrub actually wants, nor is it commercially viable.

Down to your last wish, scrubby! If he wises up here, he should realize that he shouldnt be wishing for “balance” (in any simple sense of the word) at all. What he should wish is for truly varied characters, none of whom is so weak so as to necessarily lose in boring ways. You dont need to focus on avoiding powerful characters- you just want to keep everyone interesting. I call this “meta-balance”.

SSF2T provides an excellent example of this type of meta-balance. In a “normally balanced” game, the possible opposing sides are identical, or at least functionally very similar, and of course, everyone has a roughly similar chance to win. Does everyone have a roughly equal chance to win in ST? No way. Are there stronger and weaker characters? You bet. Theres quite a bit of distance between first and last place on the rankings chart. However, look at what you get in the trade: the characters in ST are genuinely different- very few play in ways that are at all similar. Each has distinct strengths. This is cool on its own (real variety is more fun), but adds even more in another way- the relative importance of each of their individual strengths varies from matchup to matchup. This is how genuinely different characters really repay the effort that their design requires- with real depth. Being good at a meta-balanced game doesnt entail just mastering some characters gimmick, then repeating it all day, come what may. Instead, you have to understand their strengths in relation to those of the other, different characters. Youll often need entirely different tactics against different opponents, even though youre playing the same character throughout. Chun Li, under some circumstances is best played as a keep-away turtle, in others wants to rush you down, doing anything she can to avoid being pushed back, and in still others, somewhere between these two extremes. This is how you get a game that stays interesting and becomes deeper with time, instead of a quickly-won race to discover whos stupid version of the same generic attack cant be retaliated against, and is therefore the champion.

So, just to be clear: the price of having a lot of genuinely distinct characters is that some of them will be less effective than others. These degrees of effectiveness are really an almost direct consequence of the variety. It is basically unavoidable- and not something to complain about, when youre also (justifiably) insisting on variety. Discovering which characters ARE strong like this is a big part of the fun of playing- not some unfortunate, damning piece of knowledge which corrupts all future play. Its not like its discovered, then theres a thunderclap from on high in which God agrees- “Congratulations Brian, youve discovered the most powerful character! Your work here is done, and you can stop playing now!” Geez. The “proof” that some character is top tier consists solely in their continued, actual dominance. Its proven by someone playing with them, and winning. Thats it. Scrubs act like its some kind of disaster that a top tier even exists, much less that someone should actually play them (and god save the soul of anyone playing top tier characters, and playing them WELL- the horror!).

This highlights the way that an apparently “objective” complaint about balance is often really just another in a long line of scrub excuses for losing. “My character CANT win- the game is unbalanced!”. Exhibit A is the fact that this type of complaint is most often (and most loudly) made by those least qualified to do so. You know the type- the casually idiotic player who plays for a while, finds something he cant figger a way round, then goes “Since we know Im gods gift to game playing, and theres NOTHING I havent tried, the problem must be the game itself! Its unbalanced!”

Exhibit B is that these scrubs also seem to like thinking that theyre “fighting the power” by picking unpopular or weak characters- that theyre “rebels”. Since they cant win, they attempt to squeeze value out of the very act of picking the “victims” of unbalanced games. Now theres obviously nothing wrong with picking a character you like, but these scrubs pick weak characters precisely BECAUSE theyre weak. WTF. Newsflash: you dont “fight the power” simply by playing weak characters. Theyre in such a hurry to buck the system by playing their own “wacky” characters that they dont realize this is only half the battle. You dont get props merely for selecting some weird character- you get props for WINNING with the weird character, in ways people hadnt previously seen. You are not cool just for being wacky- theres nothing cool about moving the select cursor and hitting a button. Its your play that counts. A lot of players playing “wacky” characters dont use them as a format for experimentation and discovery- they use them as an excuse for losing. The reason they got mercilessly beat down is because they were TOO COOL to try and really win. Dud.

Play who you like, but play to win, or dont bother.

More next time.

i was waiting for you to get to it, but you finally did at he end of the post…

these games are unbalanced because Ryu isn’t the best!!!


I know of many people who are, in fact, NOT scrubs who believe that many of the popular games, lack a certain aspect of balance that they might, but realistically, there is no context of balance from which the game is to be measured due to this wonderful thing called complexity.

I feel that there can not possibly be balance due to the fact the ever progressive variation and complexity of contemporary games. It was much easier 10 or so years ago to have a balanced game when there were only 8 characters and the option of charge moves, button pounding moves or circular moves. Now with an almost infinite amount of variation compared to those of yesteryear, its very likely that at least a few characters are bound to have some sort of insanely overpowering glitch that allows them a slight advantage above the many popular (nost likely powerfu or useful) characters, and a profound one against the vast majority.

It’s more a problem of abuse that causes many people to feel dissapointed (SVC for example). Rather than baseing interest in a character selection on… well…interest, people feel this odd desire to select based on their ability to win better with those characters. This is unfortunate, though entirely understandable, beucase it not only shows lack of character on the parts of those who DO this, but it often causes people who DON’T to feel stupid. Some people may see video games as a reflection of their ability to win in life, but how can a person who relies a good deal on what is offered to them consider that they have within themselves the power to succeed?

Assuming that all people who pick lower tier characters to be rebels is as pretentious as scrubs yelling out “you have no real skill” to a person who hit a 5 x AHVB on them. I , for example, am a die hard Dan user. In SF: A3 he was quite powerful, though albeit not quite the V-ism shot her should have been. In CvS 2, however, he is quite aweful and has very little use other than as the joke character, yet I feel obligated to him as I see myself as a bit of a joker. I find using him far more exhillerating than simply crouching and breaking the fierce button with Blanka, Sagat or Vega, as I actually have to learn more than 1 or 2 tactics to even get close. Using Dan has tought me a level of perception that using characters like Sagat could never have (if you don’t believe me try him out).

I’m sure this is pretty incoherent so I’ll stop before I get flamed to hell but I just want to finish this saying

Play who you like, but play to have fun. If you want to win at something win in life and leave video games to the losers America takes the gameing community to be.

Old topic,

it would be cool to see a game i guess, one that all characters are strong in different ways, and one that is constantly improved upon (glitch revision) so that people pick people they like and use them because it is either a reflection of their personality, or just someone they like.

that’s just my opinion,

this one’s been dead for about a year, but i guess i’ll say it anyway

as for this balanced game, try guilty gear (XX or reload). except at the highest levels of play, the very highest, everyone has a chance of winning, largely due to the ability set that every character can draw from and compensation for any exceptions. furthermore, each character plays very differently. but most people reading this probably already knew that


Also try Tekken 5 Dark Ressurection if you haven’t already. Huge cast, each with their own, effective play style.

GGXX#R’s low tier characters still had a chance except at high lvl play for the most part, but T5 had low tiers that had no chance in hell. I haven’t had the chance to try out DR, but my main characters in T5 were Kaz and Yoshi. Against scrubs, Yoshi can win most of the time. However, againt those who were moderately good, it was an accomplishment to pull out a win. Even more so against those with high skills.

Chipp in GG is considered bottom tier, but he was my main character in that game. He’s fun to use, and in the hands of a master can dish it out. Yoshi users on the other hand (or other low tier T5 characters, Lei anyone? Kuma?!) had to play with everything in the book to pull a win. However, it’s not always about winning. I had fun playing Yoshi. He isn’t the deepest character, but I like him. Yoshi, you suck man, but I like playing as you! Yoshi love!

BTW, great read Ponder. Balance is a touchy subject.

I always that of the best characters as the “low-tier” characters. This is because I have this romantic idea that the “low-tier” characters would take the most skill to be good with. Of course, tier lists usually come with the disclaimer “…under the assumption that both players are of equal skill…”.

In the end, though, I use characters I genuinely like, regardless of how good or bad they are as far as game mechanics are concerned. I like the idea of picking a character I like and it having a reflection on what type of person I am, even if in a deep, ambiguous, psychological way.

In the end though, I disagree with Ponder. I play to have fun and better myself, not to win. Playing to win is kind of like joining a martial art just to say “Yeah, I have a black belt”, as opposed to perpetually taking a journey where you continuously work at improving yourself. Sure, winning is nice, but winning is also just a spot that gets passed on the path of one’s life.

Agreed. Pick a character you like and have fun. its nice to win but if i had a choice between picking a character that i didnt like just to win or picking a character i love and enjoying the game i would have to go with the character i like n.n

w00t for Elena! Capoeira Ftw

One of the most compelling aspects in a fighting game is character selection. (i know it’s not directly on topic, but it seems to be what people are talkin’ 'bout!)

Often it comes down to relating a person to that character.
“There’s that crazy Yoshi.” “His Dong’s a beast.” "I hate your Dudley!"
Stuff like that is music to my ears and plays into the psychological and social side of fighting games that makes them really fun.

While I am an advocate of ‘Playing to Win,’ by definition, I suppose I would be a scrub in that I have something to prove, not to others, but myself in that I stick to certain characters. I definitely see myself in Dong, Yosh, Dudley, etc… And seeing them win, is like seeing me win.

Another thing about ‘Playing to Win’ is that I feel, in a way, maybe it has gone too far. Until good fighting games DO become updated more frequently, I don’t see the harm in at least TRYING OUT some ‘fixing/updating’ on our side.
I’m also an advocate of T4 (one of the greatest games ever!!), but it had some GLARING balance issues. WHAT IF we banned Jin (and maybe Steve). We could get some interesting matches. How 'bout Genei Jin and Houyoku-Sen? Obviously the supers/characters in line would become top, but all the lower tier characters would move up as well.
What about handicap? What it be INSANE if we could agree that Twelve, Remy, and maybe even Sean deserved a few stars to help them out? Top tier Remy is SO impressive, but it’s so sad when he gets hit with a combo, is dizzied, then KOed.

The SF4 Ryu mirror match idea seems interesting as well (i’d love it if you’d indulge us Ponder). As online play becomes more and more prevalent, I’d like to see some mirror match tournaments (i know there were some fun Hwoarang ones) as well as the other things I listed.
Before writing this, I had an idea for a Garou league on Kaillera. Because nearly all the players are ‘regulars’ I thought it would be fun if we all picked a character we didn’t know well and had to stick with them throughout the league.

Fun topic, I hope others read it!!

While this article makes good points (although I still hate the ranty, offensive, F-U tone that permeates all of the articles in this section), it’s suggesting that fighting games have to be balanced from an attacking point of view.

Balance and variety aren’t mutually exclusive. I think David Sirlin makes the point in one of his articles that Guilty Gear X2 Reload is a relatively balanced game because it has a lot of sub-systems and defensive options in place for all characters, to keep things even. While there’s no doubt tiers still exist - I think we all know where Eddie and Chipp lie in the grand scheme of things - those defensive systems help keep things balanced and interesting while allowing for variety.

Likewise, VF. The side-step is an extremely powerful defensive tool that every character has access to and helps keep the cast in check. This allows room for character variety - Akira is extremely linear, Aoi is loaded with counters and mix-ups, Wolf is throw heavy, etc - without dealing huge blows to the game’s balance.

I think that’s what ultimately helps the balance in a fighting game. The developers don’t necessarily have to ensure character A has attacking options that tally with character B, C, D and so on because that DOES lead to identikit characters - just ensure every character has an effective way of dealing with those attacking options. Because defensive play isn’t what defines a character, everyone can share the same defensive options and that wouldn’t make any difference to whether the characters are varied or not.

To give one specific example, there’s no denying a bottom tier exists in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and as someone who uses Twelve and has persistently run into brick walls (quick translation: Ken) at tournaments, I think Capcom’s decision to disallow Twelve from parrying during an air-dash is madness. Parrying is the main defensive option to reverse momentum, air-dashing is Twelve’s main way of attacking. What can Twelve do against someone who can jab SRK him out of his main way of attack without a defensive option to shield himself? Turtle up. Is Twelve an interesting character? Yes, that’s why I use him. Is Twelve an interesting character when he’s forced to turtle up against a top tier character who can effortlessly deal with that character’s main way of attacking without taking huge risks himself? No, he’s not. Twelve’s as boring as shit when that happens.

That probably falls into one of the many scrubby ways of thinking you listed above, because it seems anyone who dares deviate from your line of thinking automatically becomes a scrub, but I’d love to hear how disabling a character’s main defensive safety net while attacking helps 3rd Strike become more ‘interesting’, because it’s sure as hell not helping with the balance.

This article essentially suggests that it’s impossible to marry interesting characters with perfect balance. That’s true but it doesn’t mean kicking balance to the kerb and going for out and out wacky shit is the answer - tell me how many people play Servbot in MvS2, Twelve in 3S, Panda in Tekken, King in CVS2, etc and tell me if that suggests that being ‘interesting’ makes up for the fact that they have no realistic hope of competing with the top tiers.

WTF. Newsflash: it’s because people play to win that they tend not to play as who they like.

Anyway, rant over.

>>>>Virtua Fighter…:wink:

:tup: :clap:

starts thinking out loudI really need to start meeting up with the peeps in Washington

Exhibit B is common: I see that stuff often.

They don’t bring anything new and they have an excuse for losing.

Lose-lose… uh… ftl.

I don’t necessarily see variety as anathema to character balance. GG, over the years has done a good job with attempting (and sometimes failing and succeeding) to keep a good meta-balance. I think more fighters should sit up and take note of that.


I play to improve myself and top my personal best or best the person a step ahead of me.

Characters choices are picked on Awesomeness. Fei Awesome, Jacky Awesome, Strider… Ninja duh, Bang…Ninja again, Kyo uses fire and the name sounds cool, etc. etc.

Crawl before you walk.

and always bet on Black?

goes back to GD

This is exactly how i feel about sf4

i play to have fun, and to mii chun in 3s is fun =)