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I am not very good at fighting games. The most obvious reason is that I don't practice at them. The truth of the matter is that none of my friends play fighting games. I tried to get my roommate into street fighter 4 when it came out but despite his initial enthusiasm he gave up rather quickly as I wiped the floor with him time and time again.
The poor boy is afraid of me playing as her. I might as well be whipping him with Dan.
Pretty much the only reason I won was that I had more time with my character of choice (I play sakura because I know how to do Ryu's moves but he's not cute enough.) and had viewed a series of tutorials by David Sirlin about Super Street Fighter 2 turbo on youtube.
He's actually afraid of what I learned from this series of tutorials.
So, unable to play against a friend, I choose to try the online play. The never ending march of people completely and totally destroying me ended up being too demoralizing to continue. So I am officially too good to play against beginners to get better and too bad to improve while playing against experts.
I think one of the primary reasons to blame for this is the universally terrible single player experience in fighting games.
My primary mode of play in fighting games is the single player arcade mode. Where I learn nothing more then to do slightly educated button mashing and combo timing while burning through weak as hell enemies. Then I reach the point where the game stops 'fucking around' and beats me into the dirt while I eat continues at the 'you suck' buffet and wait for the game to let me win.
The worst experience I ever had with this is Setsuka in Soul Calibur 3. My friend Justin is about 10 times better at that particular game then me and even he dies at least 20 times every time he's put up against that umbrella toting bitch.
This is the true face of evil.
The thing I have heard time and time again from people is that you can't learn to play fighting games by fighting against the computer. Things that don't work on humans always work on the computer and things that would work on a human never fool the computer. People don't even think about this anymore. It's just a universal truth.
Well why the hell doesn't an AI programmer get off their ass and figure this one out?
In every single fighting game I've played (and despite being no good at them, you would be surprised how many I have played.) I have run across the same experience with AI. When the AI is in 'I'm allowed to win' mode it seems to be doing everything at random and stumbling around like an idiot or just standing there waiting to eat fist. When it's in 'you die now!' mode it reacts instantly to everything I do with a perfect counter and then eats into my health after I am left open with a flawlessly executed damage dealing combo before I can even say 'what the hell?'.
Win or lose I have no idea what I'm doing right or wrong and I have no idea how to improve. The only strategies that seem to work are exploiting the AI's inability to think by repeating the same effective move over and over or just standing there and waiting for it to try something stupid and hitting it during the opening. Doing both of those things also seems to randomly fail whenever the computer decides it's going to beat you.
In my experiences with the AI in fighting games I think I have come up with some ideas of things I would change about how fighting game AI is handled.
My primary concern would be to change the AI's interaction with the game. As far as I can tell from the insane reactions and perfectly flawless combos of the computer it basically has the ability to look at what buttons you are pressing and has a direct line to the moves it wants to perform.
This is not something that a human has so it's a primary cause of the differences between fighting a human and fighting a computer. The computer can't be visually feinted and the computer can't accidentally mess up it's button timing to give you an opening.
Meet the AI in every fighting game when it feels like winning.
I know enough about games programming to guess that this problem would be hard to fix but I still want to see someone do it.
Make the computer's decisions completely dependent on what they 'see' on their 'screen' Just like how first person shooter AI evolved from the computer always knowing where you are to them actually having a breakable line of sight. (except in bad single player shooter experiences like bad company 2)
Fighting game AI needs to evolve from knowing what buttons you are pressing to trying to guess what you are doing based off of your character animations and guess work, and they need to be able to guess wrong even at the highest difficulty.
While you are at it make the computer have to 'input combos' via 'buttons' like the rest of us. Then give them a possibility of missing their timing or pressing the wrong button that varies with the computers designed skill level. This value should also NEVER be zero. A human always has the chance to screw up.
One thing that could also be considered is AI behaviors. I have heard from a friend of mine who plays racing games that drivers in the single player mode of Forza have varying levels of aggressiveness and varying driving styles based off of the personality of the fictional driver the AI is representing. This is effing brilliant and needs to be something that is included in fighting games. Being able to make a computer opponent angry, and thus make them sloppy, would be an interesting wrinkle, even if it isn't at the same level as toying with a human opponent.
If these sort of things are too hard to implement then I can make another suggestion. If you can't make fighting the computer AI the same as fighting a human, then STOP ACTING LIKE YOU DID!
The old crusty 'arcade' mode in fighting games treats the computer like a competitive equal to you and acts as if all you need to do to learn and enjoy the game is fight it. Which is bullshit. The average fighting game expert can whoop the crap out of everything you throw at them and the average fighting game newb gets crushed and can't learn how to play your game. You are officially satisfying no one with your game's single player.
The arcade mode is an obsolete relic designed to eat quarters from stupid children by being fun for the first half and then balls hard for the last half. It may bring back old memories for some but in this day and age and with crappy fighting game AI all it does for the average player is frustrate and waste their time. By all means include it in future releases as an extra mode, just also include something that doesn't make my experience with the game suck.
Do what Soul Calibur sometimes experiments with and find a way to make the fighting game's single player a separate game from just a one on one with an 'equal'. Other games with multiplayer don't model their single player as just their multiplayer with badly programmed bots. So why should you?
Make the enemy AI more simple to beat and then add in some sort of strategy challenge like soul calibur 3 did with it's sort of ogre battle knock off.
This is actually a game mode in Soul Calibur 3… EFF YEAH!
If that isn't what you want to do then maybe find a way to adapt the old 3d brawler genre to your fighting game controls like plenty of other fighting games have tried. Heck, why not make fighting game single player like a wrestling game's career mode and weed in special challenges and training segments that try to teach actual fighting game theory and practice?
There is an open world of possibilities and this genre isn't exploring them because game makers are too busy farming money off of people who are stupid enough to think they can win a tournament when the vast majority of them never will.
Even though everyone who has tried so far in both AI and single player design has failed to satisfy the player base that doesn't mean it's impossible. It just means you weren't trying hard enough. You have to find a way to make fighting games fun to play in single player to expand your audience. It wouldn't hurt to make the single player an actual way to learn your balls hard competitive game either.
Imagine if only the top skill level of people who bought multiplayer focused shooters could play the multiplayer well enough to enjoy it. What if the single player was just you and two teams of badly programmed bots playing capture the flag and you didn't know why the other team always out flanked you? The genre would whither and die.
You know…like fighting games do every other year when they stop being a fad.