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Paging Dr Highrez: Street Fighter X Tekken / 29th of January 2016
The establishment of this Ludonomics surgery has granted me the opportunity to read over several cases I have seen of game design blunders in the past. Though it is not the most cheerful occupational past-time, reflecting on the failures of well-intentioned developers, it is a valuable asset in that it may prevent the further repetition of such failures, but it may also empower fresher faced designers to adopt from what didn't work to create something that can. Allow me to demonstrate with a case from the last console generation, a fighting game that promised worlds colliding to make a game that was the greatest combination since Cyclops shook hands with Ryu in X-Men vs Street Fighter. This was also planned to be followed with a parallel universe fighting game with a crossover potential greater than Yoshimitsu invading the Soul Calibur franchise. Yes, the game I will be discussing is Street Fighter X Tekken.

Ah yes, a crossover project that drew a great amount of intrigue from fighters of the second and third dimensional variety. Street Fighter X Tekken was promoted as being the fighting crossover game that made daring leaps by bringing the Tekken franchise into the 2nd dimension in the hands of Capcom and their Street Fighting team as lead onward by Yoshinori “I figured the Street Fighter III OST should be more hip hop” Ono, with a promised follow-up to pull the World Warriors of the Street Fighter universe into the 3rd dimension again, but this time under the helm of Bandai Namco’s Tekken team led by Katsuhiro “This father son rivalry story is missing kung fu bears” Harada! When gameplay videos for Street Fighter X Tekken first came out, people gasped in awe at how well the game looked, winning some fans over along with many game modes such as Scramble mode, and design refinements that made not only playing individual tag partners possible, not even with online play, but even allowing individual tag players with people on separate machines from you! It even had a proper tutorial for Street Fighter, a feature that seemed so screamingly obvious to include into the likes of Street Fighter IV for casual players than “Red Focus”. It all seemed great on paper, a Street fighter game with unique elements and sub-systems, a Tekken cast that appeared to work well, colour customisation, game modes that could bring a grown man to tears and aesthetics that oozed of creative effort and prowess (watching the pre-title card animations are truly leaps and bounds over the “sliding concept art” of Ultra Street Fighter IV that’s for sure). So what went wrong?



Diagnosis

- Under developed sub-systems: Cross Rush, Pandora, the Gems (we'll be touching on that later) and charging Special Moves into Super Moves. These elements were all new concepts introduced to the game likely as an attempt to better integrate the slow air-juggling meta-game of the Tekken combatants into a system that was predominantly comprised of a quick chains of normals into specials and supers style that comes fresh from Street Fighter. Heck, DIMPS were the development team behind Street Fighter IV and this game, the fact the system was a re-engineered variant of the one in Street Fighter IV was frankly a given. With that said, the outcome was rather botched. The Cross Rush combo for instance was a universal input with a universal outcome. Light normal chains into a Medium normal, then you chain into a Heavy normal twice and boom, your character performs a launcher move and immediately tags out for their partner to commence an air juggle, which before patches like “vers. 2013”, were likely to be repeats of that Cross Rush combo, creating an infinite air juggle. Then there was the Pandora comeback mechanic of managing to buck the trend of “overpowered comeback mechanics” in that it was terribly underpowered, especially seeing it basically assured your defeat in 10 or so seconds. And while the charge cancel leading into counter hits did seem like a good idea for integrating a metagame, the risk frankly was never worth it beyond it being a crutch for newer players to use their chosen character’s Super move (which was already a much easier input than its closest equivalent of Ultra Moves in Street Fighter IV)!

- Time Outs: Street Fighter X Tekken was infamous for having the damage input be too low for combos to effectively clean up the match, mixed with the cheese that can arise with shuffling tag partners' health for health recovery, it is not surprising that game were too prone to time outs. Now suffice it to say, time out victories are not the most thrilling thing in the world, its why the WWE will never try and book a Wrestlemania match to end on a win by disqualification without internal politics more or less damning them to make the move that results in the least loss. It is a tad difficult to muster the enthusiastic fist pumps and couch leaps after you drew a match out to a time out or exploited a game breaking glitch to win under a technicality...speaking of which...

- High severity glitches on release: One of the characters of Street Fighter X Tekken was banned during tournament play, and the reason was sadly not just a simple case of him going 9 – 1 or higher in every matchup including himself for some logic warping reason. Sadly, it is instead for a far more comical, if rather embarrassing one.



LINK: “Street Fighter x Tekken: Knife Fireball Clash Glitch” by striderhanzo on YouTube (add link to “one”)

There's also a glitch that involved a blue man flying upwards perpetually, and who knows, what other terrifying, high severity bugs were present on the game's release?

- A Gems system exploited by purchased advantages: Gems that granted powers onto the fighters in combat are not in fact a new thing as far as Capcom goes. Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix had chibi Street Fighter and Darkstalkers characters (and Tessa from Red Earth / Warzard, yes Capcom, I noticed!) fight it out with gems bursting out of opponents or dropping from the sky in treasure chests as they boosted fighter abilities via “Level ups” (which seems to more justify Tessa's appearance upon retrospect) and in Marvel Super Heroes, Thanos' infinity gauntlet's gems (for those more savvy with the cinematic universe, that would be the gemstone emblazoned on Vision's forehead they talk more about near the end of Age of Ultron) are power – ups that can be collected and stolen from fellow heroes to grant you bonus powers. With this history, it’s amazing that X Tekken's Gems messed up so badly. With boost gems trying to emulate gems of past games now with irregular trigger conditions, inconsequential benefits and weirder trade-offs, and then there are the Support Gems that try to bridge a skill gap by making the game do everything for you (they'll even do the in-game tutorial for you if you take too long). At no surprise to anyone, the release of DLC gems made the wounds bigger with blatantly better benefits (want 20% more attack power without losing speed? Buy this DLC pack!) which helped define the gems system as a piece of faecal matter by the community.

- Sony's excessive exclusives: It is rather awkward in retrospect to talk about Capcom getting too chummy with Sony when it came to SfxT seeing as it may have been the lynch pin in funding the financially shakey Capcom to producing Street Fighter V. With that said though, that same speculation could be used to conclude such financial shakiness came about by such stupid tactics as this. If you decided to buy Street Fighter X Tekken when it first came out on PC or Xbox 360, you missed out on 5, yes, FIVE exclusive characters. Now three of said five had a justified reason in the form of being characters based on Sony intellectual properties such as Toro and Kuro, those two cat mascots anyone outside of Japan would be horribly unfamiliar with (until 8 months after when Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale was released) and Cole McGrath from the Infamous series, whose playstyle was cited to be like Cody (who'd later be released as all platform DLC) with a selection of aesthetic changes. This does sadly leave the remaining two, who are neither re-skinned characters (Toro being a shrunken Ryu, Kuro a shrunken Kazuya and Cole a shocking Cody) nor do they come with the justification of being owned by Sony. These two are Pac-Man, the classic pellet chomping maze navigator who’s now piloting a Mojikin from the Tekken series and an overly comical rendition of the US NES, Bad Box Art Mega Man. Neither of these two ever graced other platforms (unless you chose to mod your PC copy to emulate the PS3 version of SfxT) and to top it off, the PS3 version even came with proper functionality on the online co-op play, in that you could have a local partner or an online partner to play in your team, a function left non-existent on PC and X360 versions. It would get worse when Capcom then decided to re-release the game 7 months later onto the PS Vita with all the DLC that early buyers had to cough up an extra few bob for.



- Mega Man, the On-Disc DLC and other Public Relations killers: Going back to Bad Box Art Mega Man, you may be wondering why, beyond the exclusivity factor, the Blue (Bumbling) Bomber's presence would cause such out-cry. Well, this would be happening at the same time two Mega Man video games were cancelled, Mega Man Universe and Mega Man Legends 3, with the latter being, according to Capcom, due to the fans just not being interested enough, despite the contrary outcry online. Throw in the fact that Mega Man's “father”, Kenji Inafune left the company and suddenly this gesture of the character appearing as he does reeks less of fan-service but more fan-ridicule. Then there was the time when pirates hacked SfxT and uncovered over 20 DLC practically completed characters hidden on the disc, where they naturally cracked the code and sent the crack off to Pirate Bay or wherever. Capcom, in their infinite wisdom, chose not to budge or admit defeat, demanding their loyal customers to bring these pirates to justice for no reward. Then you get the fact that the 2013 patch, which aimed to fix the glitches and gameplay unbalance that came from the time outs, arrived too late to preserve any sort of following, Capcom would also shoot themselves in the foot with releases like Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition segmenting an already dwindling following further, and their game's promotional show Cross Assault getting in hot water because of some sexist comments from contestant Aris Bakhtanians which came merely a week before the game's initial release.

- Player's power over palettes creating bad experiences: A lighter flaw to end the diagnosis on but one that should be highlighted nevertheless. In the game, players had the ability to arrange their own colour palettes for their characters which was to tie into the expression factor that research suggests is rather important to fighting game enthusiasts [Stenström, C.D. Year Unknown. “Fighting Genre Design Guidelines”. Chalmers [online]. Available from: http://www.cse.chalmers.se/research/group/idc/ituniv/sider12/wp-content/uploads/stenstrom_paper.pdf [Accessed on: 8th January 2016]]. Rather good on paper, but the colour choice and its extensiveness (even when one disregarded the DLC colour choices) led to some gruesome aesthetics such as slime green and neon retina-scarring pink that led to rather irritating experiences and sometimes worse with some player's finding the right colours to effectively make their characters' nigh invisible and gain a competitive advantage.



Prognosis

- Mass delay and silencing on Tekken X Street Fighter: With Tekken 7 sporting guest fighter Akuma from the Street Fighter series, fans speculate that the Tekken team are finally moving towards a concentrated development effort for the tie-in to Street Fighter x Tekken, almost half a decade after its release. Normally, developers would seek to follow up on their predecessor's success quickly so as to catch more assured purchases and avoid the passage of time hurting player interest, which plagues episodic games. Sadly, it seems that the adage “time heals all wounds” is all too true, presuming Akuma's appearance even confirms the up-coming release of Tekken x Street Fighter and is not just Ono helping a friend out by trying to lead more Street Fighter fans to buy Tekken 7.

- Capcom's developmental regression: Street Fighter x Tekken was a title that had a lot of love and resources dedicated to it, developing new models from scratch, new environments, new sub-systems, many CGI cinematics including the game's opening and game modes so plentiful, I felt like it was the Dreamcast days of console fighters before online play seemed to eat up all the game modes all over again. Sadly, the game's failure and significant impact on fan trust for Capcom led to the company dedicating more to safer investments, never expanding with new game modes for their other fighters, never revising the Marvel license in fear of the financial cost despite Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 still holding a following in spite of its Skyrim competing release date (I wish I was joking), even recycling models from the Street Fighter x Tekken corpse for Ultra Street Fighter IV (when it wasn't just recycling itself at least). Only with recent events such as Sony’s investing in Capcom to fund the PS4 console exclusive, Street Fighter V, have Capcom seemingly splashed out on a new release.



Reflection

It would seem the public relations blunder that arose from DLC has especially taken Capcom back to the drawing board, with the expansions of old now completely gone and DLC operating on a system more akin to the mobile two-currency systems on Street Fighter V, either pay to unlock the DLC character now with real money, or “git gud” in the main game and unlock the content with in-game currency. Most of the gameplay issues beyond the sub-systems were resolved with the 2013 patch suggesting that Capcom could easily have done with more development time, a sentiment echoed by professional fighting game player GamerBee. Really, the only unaddressed matter would be the game's sub-systems, could they have been salvaged and, if so, how? If I could make some hypothetical suggestions, I would say:

- Cross Rush combos should have character specific effects: Changing the benefits to best accommodate for specific characters maintains the universal input while maintaining a selling point of the Street Fighter series, varied and crazy characters with differing playstyles. Maybe instead of a launching uppercut, the character does a counter hit so as the chain can more easily link into a special move or actually leads into a unique command throw. With the variety demonstrated from the V-guage of Street Fighter V, the Cross Rush seems right at home.

- Tag out after a Cross Rush only on held 2nd heavy input: In Street Fighter x Tekken, a Cross Rush always leads to the character tagging out for their partner, which makes the entire game more predictable and leaves little room for expansion for new player's after learning the Cross Rush. If, however, the player had control over whether they tag out or not on the final hit, (i.e. tap = no tag, hold = tag) this would allow for more mix up potential.



- Counter hit from charging only activates on Heavy normal: The ability to follow up from halfway charging one's special is an interesting idea which sadly suffers from a lack of utility, as the counter-hit function only applies to your next move, whiff and your charge was wasted, get blocked and your charge was wasted, hit with the wrong move to link into an otherwise unsafe combo and your charge was wasted. With this change however, there is not only applicability in the middle of combos but it acts as a compliment to the Cross Rush for new players to experiment with new combos and thus diverge from the Light, Medium, Heavy, Heavy that the Cross Rush is locked to.

- Remove the Assist Gems: The Assist Gems automate too much of the game, making it too boring for them and too frustrating for the opponent. Ideally, the tutorial and the expanded Sub-Systems should guide the newcomers into core play.

- Simplify the Boost Gems to tie to the Super metre: Frankly, it seems rather odd that the development team didn't intent for the gems to operate this way seeing how the gem UI is kept in close proximity to the super metre UI and they both have 3 segments to them. Depending on how many segments of Super meter you have kept would activate more gems simultaneously (so 3 Attack boosts with full Super gives you triple the Attack boost for as long as you had full meter). Again, allowing for more variety among players, particularly those who are not so found of the whole spending metre thing unless they were desperate.

And with that, the revision is over. I suppose this could become a more frequent event should I find more past titles I could dissect with some Ludometrics and people maintain an interest in their publication. For now though, this is Dr. High Rez, signing off.
Greg Baxter
 
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