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.

  • fosforic

    I find it to be more than extensive already in some games. Soul calibur V has a very nice learning curve. You can see each move executed by an AI so you know how it looks like and the combo lists are shown at the bottom of your screen and you just input the combinations as you’re moving. Quite honestly , this is about as far as any game can generally teach you. The additional skill that comes on top of that is efficiency and speed and you simply can’t learn or implement that in a tutorial. While I don’t agree that exensive tutorials are a good idea (because of the underlying nature of a fighting game remains to be a variant of “button mashing”, especially if you’re learning), it may attract doubtful players to pick up a game they might never else try out because of it’s difficulty. Though easy modes, training modes with non-attacking cpu’s should be more than plenty to try and get the move downs of a specific character.

    Most likely, a more intensive look and workout of a tutorial will also require more space and come to the cost of possible content, graphics and/or other things developpers tend to cut to keep their game as a single disc release. Which i’d rather not have.

    quote: “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.”

    That would seem like the point wouldn’t it? :p If an AI can baffle you by predicting your every move you are simply never going to beat it. You forget that AI’s already have an impeccable advantage of inputting combo’s over someone who does it on a controller. And that advantage is HUGE. Especially if you actually want to challenge yourself to playing against hard to very hard AI’s. In this modus, an AI will strike you hard and fast. And this little “human thinking” is actually the ONLY window you have to break through their flawless combo sets. Not to mention that even this, is already tough as fuck to do. SCV has a legendary souls mode where you can battle the hardest AI’s, and I have yet to beat the first one, Kilik. He busts my nuts with his stick (no homo) faster than the game can say ” start ” at the beginning of a match. And rightfully so. Though it would be fun to be actually able to beat him for a change..

    • eric_s07

      I’ve been playing some fighting games lately and as I stated in the article I found that most of them didn’t have proper training modes. Some of the older ones didn’t have training modes period. The Soulcalibur series has come up quite often lately and I guess I’ll eventually have to catch up with it and see how it has evolved (or not) since I stopped playing a couple of years ago.

      I understand what you mean regarding tutorials and they space they could take up on a disc, but there’s always the possibility of posting videos on an official site or through a specific platform so that you could access it within the game. Companies like Capcom have been trying to push tournaments forward so I guess they shouldn’t have problems creating a channel on YouTube that teaches rookies how to play. If you could stream that within the game, it could be perfect, I think that would be feasible and it could be very beneficial to Capcom as well.

      About the AI, I agree with you that sometimes it can be extremely overwhelming and overpowered but if you make it more “human” you’d be forcing it to guess upcoming moves (instead of predicting them,) make mistakes and things like that so you can become better at the game.