Fighting Game Training Modes: What is the Problem with Them?

Super Street Fighter 4 Screenshot

The resurgence of the fighting game genre is undeniable. For the past few years various companies have been working hard to improve their existing franchises (Marvel vs. Capcom, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter,) while others have tried to implement some interesting ideas to their new titles (such as the upcoming Skullgirls.) As a consequence, going back to older games is really difficult and one of the main reasons for that is because most of those lacked training modes.

For many years, training modes have been pretty much inexistent. I remember playing Mortal Kombat 2 on the SEGA Genesis against an experienced player and having no idea what I was supposed to do. At the time, that meant something. After all, most console fighting games were ports of arcade versions, versions that didn’t need proper tutorials and training modes. Players were supposed to learn from magazines, friends, older family members, or simply through a process of trial-and-error. But soon enough and during the late 90s when the internet started becoming more and more popular, fans of the genre discovered a new resource to play fighting games.

Nowadays though, players expect the games themselves to teach them how to play. Fighting games have become extremely important from a competitive perspective and hundreds of players gather to participate in tournaments while thousands watch them live. Additionally, those who don’t participate probably play online on a regular basis. Preparation is needed because most veteran players either participate in tournaments or train online. The main resource should be the training mode where ideally, all the necessary tools should be available to the uninitiated. Unfortunately, basic explanations and vague references to important features are commonplace and this can definitely be disheartening for first-time players who are eager to learn about the game’s basics.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Screenshot

As veteran players know, learning how to effectively execute an attack isn’t enough to win matches, fighting games require players to carefully consider timing, blocking and the use of combos at very specific times. But all this can be tricky to those who aren’t familiar with some basics and it’s a shame that developers assume that most people who are going to play their game are experts on the matter. The result? Newcomers feel frustrated and confused.

Ideally, games should include different types of explanations, maybe tutorials in the form of videos, commentaries from veterans (which should range from pretty basic to more technical and meticulous descriptions) and so on. In my opinion, that’s what most games lack, tutorials that gradually become more difficult. If the explanations quickly become overly convoluted, rookies will feel frustrated and simply stop playing the game. A gentle learning curve should be a must.

The artificial intelligence is probably another topic that needs discussion. Although most games feature a challenging AI, it’s worth pointing out that no computer will be able to match the way in which a human being thinks during a virtual fight. For mere educational purposes the AI may be a competent adversary, but human players are definitely much more suitable when it comes to understanding some complex concepts. The solution to this problem isn’t easy, but maybe taking famous matches from real-life and applying them to a tutorial would be quite appealing to certain players. This is something that Street Fighter 3rd Strike Online Edition implemented and it seemed quite interesting, especially to those who weren’t very familiar with the tournament scene. Of course, trying to recreate the entire fight of EVO 2004 between Justin and Daigo is probably too much for most players, but still, this seems like a neat idea that fighting games should try to use.

Mastering all the mechanics and making split-second decisions can’t be taught that easily, but that’s the real challenge for developers. If more effort is put into tutorials I’m sure more players will be drawn to the genre and its passionate community will only keep growing. Making changes in the tutorial modes may not revolutionize the genre, but it’s a good start.