AE’s … good. But Capcom’s got so much potential going forward with it’s upcoming balance patch, how could they go wrong? Lot’s of ways! Do you fairly balance the characters by analyzing their pro’s and con’s? Or do you give Yun his own version of 'Gravity Squeeze"? Either way.
Below are some guidelines that could permanently benefit the futue of SFIV, but these aren’t going to be agreed upon by everybody, or even most everybody. But to hell with it, let’s do it. So, without further delay …
1. Make the Characters Suck or 'Why Everyone Needs an 'Achilles Heel’’
Every character needs an Achilles heel to be balanced. A zone, low-priority normal or unsafe on block special that keeps a character feeling mortal and prevents tier-whores from running rampant. With out these restrictions, characters become ‘A’ level disasters and the game becomes infected with “tier-whoring” and ego-boosting players who have no interest in mastering a character and pushing them as far as they can go. This does not lay well for a long-term competitive game and, despite old-school protests of “overcome”, the problem is more complex than that and varies from character to match-ups. And, while these were problems in the past, thanks to a lack of restrictions in the matter today (online patches, reduced hardware costs and online markets) we can even out inconsistencies now.
"Damn 09er’s! Gotta learn how to play! Who do I main? What does that matter? "
Fei Long and Yun are the biggest example of ‘A’ status in AE because they destroy a majority of the cast with safe mix-ups. Behind them are characters like C.Viper and Akuma who destroy a large portion of the cast as well. But it doesn’t stop there, even though they may not be top tier, certain characters are still horrible 7-3 matches. if you play a low-tier zoning character, like T-Hawk or Hakan, you don’t stand a chance against Chun or Guile because they have quick reversals and excellent priority normals. Basically, their ‘keep away’ beats the hell out of your ‘keep away’. And in the end, somebody’s gotta make a move.
Get used to this if you play a defensive character
Every character should have a noticeable hole in their game, for some it can be bad anti-air options, maybe no reversal, or maybe a bad poke game. Whatever. The point is, it needs to be there. You can buff any characters game, hell even Yun, but they need to have one exploitable weakness for even low-tier to punish. A lot of people say the way to perfect balance is to OP everything, but SF isn’t MVC. That method works in that style, but SF is more like chess, and the way to make chess fair isn’t to make all the pieces queens.
If every character has great options except one or two bad options, then every character has a strategy to them, both to protect and encroach. You’ll still need to use your bad option but you’re going to use it when you really feel you’ve outsmarted the opponent. Then it becomes not just following the, for example, “Ken flow chart”, but finding your own personal approach of exploitation. A push and pull between what you want to do and when you’re going to do it. There’s a method to your madness and the strategy becomes more personal from player to player.
Not to mention, when every character get’s played, more people play/watch the game because there’s more variety to the tournaments and streams. Everyone wins because in theory there’s more to analyze for the viewer and players can notice more prominent differences in the play-style between their fellow … uhh … Rose’s?
“Finally! A Fei-Long match!”
The only caveat to this, is that health nerfs and reduced damage do not qualify as an ‘Achilles Heel’. They may be necessary for some characters balance in ver.2012 (as I’ll describe below) but they are not a zone-able weakness for the opponent to focus on (or not, mind games and whathaveyou). Without a goal for you to plan your attack around, there is no strategy. That’s why people hate fighting top characters, because eventually you’ll play against the player who only plays safe and now the game isn’t you versus them, it’s you versus the character divided by time.
This must change drastically across the board in ver.2012
2. Heavy nerfs across the board or ‘Why Capcom Hates Honda’
If you’ve followed Honda throughout his progression in SFIV, you’ll see a character swing wildly between low, high and middle tiers. Capcom first thought they could balance with stat changes to his damage and giving him a new Ultra. But, depending on how you look at it, this backfired. Honda became a top contender that still had problems with a majority of his difficult match ups. So, instead of buffing and nerfing to a healthy balance, someone up top decided to solve the problem by removing tools he’s had since his first appearance in World Warriors. If you’re saying to yourself, “Oh come on, it’s not that bad.” Well, you’d be wrong.
Honda in better days.
Imagine Ryu being so strong they have to remove his SRK. For Honda, that was his light head-butt invincibility. A move essential for Honda to recover after soft-knockdowns and a critical tool for keeping space and not getting swarmed. This was in addition to nerfing the Hundred Hand chip damage he relied on. And his damage output as a whole? Outright reduced. Why? Because people complained so loudly Capcom had to respond just as drastically to silence their detractors.
Meanwhile, fellow “sit and pray” characters like Guile, Chun and Balrong (characters who can arguably play good footsies, keep-away and ‘sit and pray’) received well-planned tweaks instead of black and white removals. Honda needed nerfs to fit in AE’s style, no question. But we believed in Mike Ross because his reactions and zoning was top-tier, something necessary to be a good Honda. Not because he sat in the corner for 90 seconds like the tier-whoring online warriors who ruined the character for everyone. “But,” you may say, “other characters got nerfs just as damaging, right?”
Of course not.
While unfair loops like Cammy’s TKCS loop was removed, most of the casts nerfs were of the hitbox reduction variety, meaning they were harder to use or from a shorter distance. Case in point, Bison’s HK and Ryu’s MK.
These nerfs were complained about so loudly by fans, you’d be forgiven for thinking Capcom made them into quadriplegics. In truth, Ryu can still poke farther than most and Bison just lost a little damage in the toe. Whopee. No offense to those characters fans, as these ARE nerfs for sure, but when compared to the level of Honda’s complete change in play-style and enhanced vulnerability? These are minor changes to streamline abused tactics from AE. If Honda’s example was to be followed, the priority on these moves would be removed entirely. What this proves is a clear favoritism towards certain characters while others, *cough Hakan, who could use buffs as drastic as Honda’s nerf, don’t receive them.
“Oh, your Roundhouse isn’t GDLK anymore? That sucks. You sure you don’t have aaannnnyyything else you can use? … asshole.”
In ver.2012 - no favoritism. Each member of the cast needs to have weak spots and strong spots. If they had every intent to be fair the battle team would have nerfed Bison’s meter-building, because clearly having the option to corner-trap reversal-less opponents isn’t enough. Or how about Makoto and Fei’s GDLK mid-range focus and awesome up-close poke game? Meanwhile, equally unfair advantages like Adon’s quick get-up option gets removed? No.
If the development is willing to remove major portions of a characters game, they must do this across the board, not to break the character of course, but to give them the aforementioned Achilles heel. I’m almost four years into this game and Ken’s still kara-throwing grapplers and Ryu’s still flipping out of trades for an Ultra/Super. This does not a fair game make.
3. Don’t forget the bottom or ‘Oh look, a Gen Player, What’s He Doing Here?’
It’s not enough to just generally buff the bottom characters. More specifically, the bottom cast has problems that need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis across their most difficult match-ups. Nerfing Yun/Fei may benefit most mid-tier characters, but characters on the bottom have more specific needs that need to be addressed. The Chun vs. Honda match for instance. This is a terrible match made into an easy 8-2 in AE. However, since most people consider Chun pretty balanced, this match up is unlikely to get better. Unless Cap remembers the bottom.
One of these things is not like the other
Characters like Fuerte, Hakan and Dan for instance, need match up specific help that will probably nerf aspects of the higher tier’s game in order to open up more balanced battles in specific match-ups. But this can be done fair and across the board. Some mid-tier’s, like Cammy vs Gouken, also have major problems and addressing fair options for certain circumstances is the best way to attack inconsistencies.
So, remember when buffing characters in ver.2012, use the lower tier as a measurement on how effective these characters can compete. Having a low tier doesn’t benefit the game anymore than having an OP tier. A character can be good, but flawed.
4. Mixups or ‘Why Fuerte is the Best SF Character of All-Time’
While characters like Akuma, Seth and Viper may be fun to mix characters up with, these strategies need to be minimized. Not because they are particularly difficult to beat for most of the cast (most can be beat with an EXDP. Meanwhile, Hakan’s options in an Akuma vortex are pathetic), but because they minimize the game into a vortex of safe attempts by those characters at the sake of opportunity on the opposing side.
Ibuki’s vortex, and Seth’s feet, for example, were nerfed and, while it hurt them, both are more fair characters overall now. Yet, characters like Akuma/Viper are left with safe moves that help them clear ground across the screen, in addition to having Vortex’s that lock the opponent into a 50/50 game. This isn’t a good design decision. Whenever your options are limited to two choices which can both lead to heavy damage and the exact same situation where you need to guess again, this is a negative.
You’re probably used to this image by now. Still sexy though.
Fuerte is a good example of Capcom almost getting it. While Viper hasn’t changed at all across three games, Fuerte is constantly adjusted to find his place. His nerfs in AE were a good start. But while he needs his meaty game nerfed, he also needs his ground game, or wall bounce (vega-style) game, buffed. He needs to be a fighter and not an annoying guessing character with few strategic options when the character isn’t on the ground. Akuma/Viper meanwhile, are effective even without their vortex’s. Vortex’s don’t have to disappear, but they need balance risk along with reward.
[LEFT]5. Difficulty does not mean higher tier standing or ‘Why I Deserve to Win on Principle Only’[/LEFT]
Characters like Viper, Bison and Guile are notable for how badly they can kill non-reversal characters. But while we’ll have to come back to Bison and Guile another day, thanks to Latif (and Wolfkrone and Flash’s) performance at EVO2011, people’s popular opinion seems to be coming to a pretty unanimous conclusion: Viper is very strong. The scourge of many Japanese players in fact.
One solution (WARNING: Controversial idea) is to give Viper 850 health, the same as Akuma, but leave most of her game intact (maybe nerf recovery on light BK, cause the ambiguity should carry some risk. Whatever).
This isn’t the most popular opinion for sure, but it does make some sense. 850 is the health amount one would expect of any character that can tiger-knee into a cross-up overhead from max-distance. However, many players cry foul because she is not an easy character to master and should have better results because of it. And THAT is the problem.
Learning to fight with a stick isn’t easy, but in the end … you can get free everything.
Just because a character is hard to learn, doesn’t mean they should be guaranteed a higher tier standing. The pro-level is the best we have to measure the potential of a character and Viper has proven she can do very well. Meanwhile, T- Hawk has not. But now think about that: Wouldn’t by that same logic of difficulty, T-Hawk’s lack of success be attributed to his game being equally difficult, if not more, to perform adequately against most of the cast? If he was easy to learn, wouldn’t we see more T-Hawk’s? Shouldn’t we reward excellent spacing and traps like we do flashy execution? To which some will say, “T-Hawk sucks even after you learn him,” and to which the logical retort is, (with a kinda smug attitude) “exactly”.
T-Hawk comes with his own difficulties that may not be execution-based, but zoning and learning the use of every normal against every match-up in the game. Attempting this isn’t easy by a long shot. In contrast, Sagat, who isn’t as execution-heavy as VIper, was called cheap in Vanilla, despite AE-era Viper being able to deliver nearly as much damage. The only difference is the perceived difference in difficulty. Still, learning how to be an ‘A’ level-threat Sagat player like Mago takes years to master, yet we don’t mind nerfing him because his execution isn’t seen to be as hard to do for the damage he delivers.
Learning a character should be a joy despite where they end up. If you want to master a execution-heavy character like Dudley or Viper, that should be it’s own reward. Master the character for the sport, challenge, recognition and the impressed ooh’s and ahh’s of the crowd. But you don’t deserve more safe options or more tools because they are harder to perform with. That logic is insulting to players who have learned other aspects of the game and stuck with other, lesser characters for just as long if not longer, but are constantly getting snubbed in buffs or screwed in nerfs.
If Viper is difficult to perform with (and she is), but not strong enough to warrant a nerf, then why is the popular opinion that she needs the life to take all those unsuccessful burn kick risks? With that same logic we can infer that two of the four new characters in SFIV Vanilla (Viper and Fuerte) have move-set’s that amount to little more than elaborate rock/paper/scissor traps and both have 900 health to back it up. Aside from horrible design, isn’t such a simplistic idea offensive to good Viper players like Latif and Krone? That they need more health to be successful due to how many times they redo the same attack pattern, waiting for it to stick?
By that same idea, why do so many Fuerte players, even great ones like I PERU, have so many bad match-ups? Simply, Viper isn’t doing the same thing over and over, she’s using her BK’s to out-zone and cross-up, both as a meaty and 1 on 1, something that Fuerte lacks. It’s like in ‘Unbreakable’ where Bruce Willis(Viper) gets all the strong genes while Samuel L. Jackson(Fuerte) inherited all the bad ones. Because Viper, from mix-up to offense to a solid reversal, truly doesn’t (and doesn’t need to) take as many risks. It’s just that as she presently stands there’s no reason not to. The options to punish her for abusing the tactic are limited to quick reversals and quick anti-airs, tools that not every character has. But to beat Fuerte all you have to do is jump, and you’ll inevitably escape or punish. Yet Fuerte has to take those risks because his whole game is played with his meaty 50/50’s (50/50/50/50/50 to be precise).
Basically, as far as health is meant to place characters in similar risk/reward brackets, the difference between Viper/Akuma is a lot less than Viper/Fuerte.
Would you nerf this face?
When we remember EVO 2011, who did we all want to win? It wasn’t Daigo, it wasn’t Latif … it was Poongko.
Of course, we all had our favorites whether it was an American or a personal friend. But Poongko captured the reverie of everyone. In a sea of Yun’s, Fei’s and Viper’s, he fought to the top with a character most top players’s consider mid-tier and flawed. Watching his execution was GDLK and his ability to out-read and out-play his opponents was a joy to watch because we knew at any second he couldn’ve been shoryu-ed right out of the competition. Would we have rooted for him if he was playing Fei? Absolutely not. (For proof, check out this episode of ‘Excellent Adventures’. Fast forward to the back-half though).
Look how infatuated Goo, Flash and Mike are with Poongko’s game. It’s not because he just trumped a guy with his beastly Yun, but because he was using Juri (technically random) and blew a 3000+PP guy to pieces. It wasn’t his abuse of top-tier that helped him win, but his GDLK reads, reactions and execution. If every character has vulnerability, then the players that rise above it are respected instead of reviled. There is no better example for this article then the excitement in a well-played mind game over relying on cheap characters and tactics that we see in most tournament finals.
Ver.2012 could be the start of yearly updates to AE and that’s a good thing. Pro sports get adjusted for years before finding their sweet spot and let’s all hope the same for competitive video games. With hope, we’ll get a ver.2013 one day. But right now, let’s hope Capcom takes a good foot out of the gate and reduces the evident cheapness and replaces it with a game full of fun characters with punishable flaws. That way it won’t just be Poongko we’re rooting for, but everybody.