The Evolution of a Difference

Well, once again I’m going to have a very busy weekend, so you guys are getting another early update! Before we jump into this week’s topic, I thought I’d go a little out of the way with regards to the recent interest over Capcom’s announcement of Downloadable Content (DLC) for Resident Evil 5.

A lot of people across the web have been crying ‘foul’ at Capcom for their announcement of forthcoming DLC on the day of Resident Evil 5’s release. Most people seemed to have an issue with this announcement coinciding with the games launch, and have branded Capcom for withholding content from a game to sell later, a dirty move if such an accusation is true. Leave it to level heads to prevail though, the guys at Penny Arcade have made a wonderful point that reviews of the Japanese version of the game were due in January.

So if you think about it, the game had to have gone Gold (industry slang for copies being put on disk) before that point, so they have had several months to work on the DLC content. As is, RE5 is packed full of stuff that, if you don’t cheat, will take you many, many hours to unlock. So as far as the expansion content goes, when it launches, it’ll be worth your time, and it isn’t a cheap attempt on Capcom’s part to get more of your gaming dollar for the game in question. Granted, RE5’s content seems useful (Survival and Versus mode? Sign me up!) compared to SFIV’s ‘new’ content (new character costumes? Really? What about new Characters?)

Speaking of Street Fighter IV, it actually plays a bit into our topic today: The Evolution of Difference.

Generally speaking, a genre is a genre. A First-Person-Shooter will always be a First-Person-Shooter, while a Racer will always be a Racer. But if you really get down in and look, there are small ripples of sub-genres, even in two types of games you may find in fact to very different games.

To explain, let’s hop back to fighting games in the early 1990s. Street Fighter II has just blasted into arcades like an atom bomb; thousands of teens flock to arcades to drop quarters battling it out with friends as Ryu, Ken, Chun-li, and a host of other fighters. Other companies, seeing the large amount of success gathered by SFII, hurried to release their own brands of fighting games into the market, and in doing so, created a rift that still extends to modern fighting games. The balance of visual and technique.

Street Fighter II at the time had a very balanced and widespread roster of characters at the players command. While the basic premise of a fighting game is simple (use a varying amount of kicks and punches to KO your opponent before they do the same to you, Street Fighter II brought new additions to the table by making these characters very different. While Chun-li was fast and specialized in kicks and jumping maneuvers, Zangief on the other hand was slow but powerful and boasted a large selection of punishing close range grabs. Capcom further distinguished each character by giving them a small roster of special attacks that could be performed upon execution of a certain button sequence, requiring a fair amount of skill to perform. From Ryu’s fireball to Dhalsim’s teleport, these additional moves made each character distinct from one another. However, Capcom was careful to make the real focus of the game, as it moved on, knowing when and how to use each move supplemented by occasional special moves. In other words, they began to make the game technical.

Street Fighter’s greatest rival however, saw things differently, and their approach set the pattern that fighting games still follow today. Mortal Kombat played a very different game. Rather then make the characters too dissimilar (and one might add harder to balance), Midway instead threw more focus behind grand looking special moves such as the bicycle kick and the politically controversial Fatalities. While winning in Street Fighter was a matter of being precise about when to block and when to strike, Mortal Kombat was all about throwing out more special maneuvers then your opponent.

The difference between these two fighters has been followed by every other fighting game since that time: Flashy visuals or technique. The Street Fighter Alpha series, while boasting some neat looking attacks and nifty combo engine, threw in such concepts as technical hits, technical counters (different from a normal counter), and other such fine tuned ideas that meant the difference between victory and defeat. Mortal Kombat had conversely thrown in more and special moves and characters, keeping the basic gameplay simply and (arguably unrefined) and throwing more and more eye candy at consumers. More fatalities, the ability to punch people through walls and other such flashy visual attributes became a normal experience of Mortal Kombat.

Each game also kept to a specific visual style. Mortal Kombat emphasized heavily digitized graphics and photo-motion capture, while Capcom opted for a more easygoing hand animated approach.

If you were an arcade rat during this time, you knew the battleground. You played one or the other, and you would defend it to the death. It was Street fighter II or Mortal Kombat.

Before we go further, some games do sit on the middle ground. Marvel VS Capcom, a brilliant cross over game that saw Marvel heroes such as the X-men, Spider-man, Iron man and Captain America among others doing fisticuff battle with Capcom classics such as Ryu, Ken, and Megaman, had to be a little flashy simply to match up to the battles comic book heroes usually have. Even with its snappy visuals however, it still kept the rock solid Street Fighter combat style. Technical battling was the way Capcom moved.

In the mid nineties another two series started up that once again that went to even higher extremes. Sega launched its famed Virtua Fighter in 1993, the world’s first 3D fighting game (both Capcom and Midway had been playing with two dimensions up to this point) and a highly technical one. Where Capcom had three punches and three kicks (light, medium and heavy), Virtua Fighter just had punch, kick and block. Each character was very unique, following a very real world set of special moves in their respective martial art (hence the Virtua name) and proving to be a revolutionary game upon launch.

Then came a response that (you guessed it) was to Virtua Fighter what Mortal Kombat was to Street Fighter. Tekken launched into arcades with a multitude of characters and a different, flashier style and lower level of seriousness. Where Virtua fighter had slow paced methodical thought out battles, Tekken threw fast paced rapid fisticuffs with giant robots as contestants at players and let the flair flow. Both series have done well, and continued to evolve along their respective paths since their original conception, Virtua Fighter holding to its aura of intense technicality while Tekken has moved the opposite direction, letting players perform multiple special moves with flashy visual appeal (I will admit, that my experience with both of these titles has been limited compared to other fighters, if you feel my prognosis in inaccurate, I encourage you to comment and mention it, I may not be entirely correct).

Of the numerous other fighters that emerged during this era over various consoles, most are readily prescribed to one class or the other. Some over time have even changed from one style to the other. Soul Caliber, a classic weapon-based fighting game, was fairly technical upon its initial conception. My friends and I spent many hours playing Soul Caliber II and planning precise combat strategies. However, the newest game in the series, Soul Caliber IV, has a less polished feel to it, which became painfully obvious the day I purchased Street Fighter IV. After a few hours of myself and my friends playing Street Fighter IV’s highly polished and technically deep gameplay, we decided to change it up and stick in Soul Caliber IV. To our horror, we realized just how loose and flashy the game really was. Previously we had played it as if it was a previous incarnation, technical and specific. After playing SFIV, my friends and I realized just how much button-mashing could do for us in SCIV. It creates huge combos of flashy, grandiose attacks…which rapidly turn the battle one way or another. SCIV isn’t as shallow as some other games out there, but that night its change from technical to flash stood out.

Honestly, there isn’t a solid problem with either style, the point is that they exist, a rift of a sub-genre among what would be considered by many to be a consistently solid area. Interesting to think about isn’t it? Such rifts don’t confine themselves to fighting games either. Let’s take platforming for example. The Classic Sonic and Mario games fit the same basic mold but…when you get down to playing them, they are very different games in their own respects.

Many other genre divisions such as this exist (any you would like to see explored? Drop a comment!), which all at once can make the daunting task of selecting a game a bit more daunting. But at the same time, variety is the spice of life, and I would much rather see these divisions exist. Even if I do prefer technique to flash, one isn’t inherently better than another. Rather, its little things like these that continue to move gaming forwards as one of the entertainment giant’s today, and the premium of the future.

Games I’m Currently Playing: Resident Evil 5 (360), Castle Crashers (XBLA), Sins of a Solar Empire (PC), Seiken Detsetsu 3 (SNES), Sonic and the Black Knight (Wii)


Stephen said...

Interesting. I'm not much of a fighter fan (maybe because I'm a hopeless button-masher, and I just get ticked off when Nightmare annhiliates me his sentient Buster sword), but I can definitely see the distinction you raise here...the fighters I've played do tend to fall into those categories, more or less.

I think it'd be interesting to see genre differences explored for RPGs and Strategy games. I'm sure there's some subtle-yet-clear distinctions in those genres as well.

Time Enforcer Anubis said...

I'm not much of a fighting game player either. Only fighting game I'm really into is Virtual-On, which brings up the difference point again, as looking at Virtual-On, then looking at any other fighter that has ever come out, Virtual-On seems like a whole new genre. However, the elements of a fighting game are still there. It's like what Portal did with FPS: The elements are all still there, but it's like an entirely new genre.

Speaking of FPS, I've seen there are two general types of those, as well, like fighting games. There's the fast-paced, if-it-moves-unload-on-it FPS(Unreal, Quake, Doom), and there's the more realistic, tactical FPS(Halo, CoD, Battlefield). Both are fun, to me at least, and, though they're different, they share the same FPS elements, and I think the people who complain about too many FPS coming out or not enough "uniqueness" in modern games fail to realize this.

The Game Critic said...

Actually, I'd say Halo is a bit more of a if it moves shoot it...

And Crysis and Far Cry are sandbox. All these sub-genres really make things interesting. This week: RPGs!

Time Enforcer Anubis said...

I dunno, I'd beg to differ on Halo. In Doom, Unreal, and Quake, you can carry as many weapons as you want whereas, in Halo, you can only carry 2. There's generally more thought put into actions in Halo and people tend to become good with 2 or 3 weapons because weapons are limited. For instance, the Sniper Rifle in Halo spawns generally only when nobody has it, whereas the Sniper Rifle in UT either respawns quickly, or says right where it is when somebody picks it up.

It's got the elements of a more tactical FPS, more than it has the elements of Unreal, Doom, or Quake.