Sep 07

Brainstorming an arrowsmash/fighting game hybrid

Fighting games have evolved a great deal since I abandoned them in the decline of arcades (the last real fighting games i took with any degree of seriousness were Marvel vs Capcom 2 and Killer Instinct 2 back in the early 2000s), and in attempting to regain some relevance and competency in the genre in the form of Injustice 2, I’ve learned just how important frame data and knowledge of that frame data is for competitive fighting game players:

This has some parallels to the old competitive music video game scene (the most popular in the US being Dance Dance Revolution) where the degree of precision to hit a “marvelous” window or “fantastic” window was defined in milliseconds (but the calculation of such varies depending on the game). But there’s a fundamental difference between competitive music video games vs fighting games – in the former, the competitive aspect comes from two players who are independently trying to perfectly execute a stepchart but otherwise don’t have any interaction with each other. In the latter, competition is entirely conversational – competitors are directly interfacing with each other, reacting to each others’ attacks and defenses, and playing rapid constant mind-games with their opponent in efforts to trip them up and not get tripped up themselves.

At some point in the last couple of weeks, a notion came to me: what if there was a way to combine the two?

A “Battle Mode” in dancing games has been tried in the past (particularly in stepmania and the stepmania-based ITG) where reaching a landmark of execution would throw “mods” at the opponent’s screen in an attempt to trip them up:


but this is unsatisfying because the stepchart itself doesn’t vary, or even if it does, the player doesn’t have direct control over how those arrows are changed – particularly rhythmically. So “defenders” of mods are merely reacting to a change in visual presentation of the same predetermined script of arrows and the “attacker” has about much influence on the defender’s gameplay choices as a single person in Twitch Plays Pokémon.

So i started brainstorming for gameplay ideas/components that could successfully merge the two genres together into a single hybrid eSports-worthy game.

Idea 1: Dance Game Simultaneous Call and Response – Set up designated times within a stepchart where each player “records” their individual steps and then has to execute the others’ recorded steps immediately after.

For example, suppose measure 2 of a chart is set up as a “record” measure and measure 3 is set up as a “execute” measure. As the second measure scrolls by, each player steps whatever they want during that measure and then in measure 3, the recorded steps are scrolled on the opposite side for the other player to step accurately. Quicker pressure can be made from creating record/execute patterns of half measures or single quarter note beats, or bigger forms can be created if record/execute patterns are multiple measures, like every 4 or every 8.

There are two potential pitfalls to this. One is disparity in skill level. If player one can AAA the end of PSMO in their sleep but player two struggles with basic skills, player one could use their “record” function to perform something they know their opponent can’t do. For competitions that’s fine and dandy, but for casual and “building the community” sort of play that wouldn’t be appropriate. This could maybe be solved by creating difficulty settings that compensates for that – if player two sets a difficulty of “easy” against player one, player one’s recorded steps that are quicker than eighth notes get discarded, for example (and maybe vice versa where simpler steps have other steps added to make it more challenging). The logic behind that would have to be complicated to make it work out to still be idiomatic.

Second issue would be: what if a player is not great at executing arrows with the beat or what if the player decides to deliberately execute a flurry of random arrows not on the beat? Quantization might help address that, but how is it decided whether execution of recorded steps are either sloppy/sabatoge-y versus legitimate? You wouldn’t want, say, the 24th notes of Go 60 Go Expert to be quantized as sixteenth or 32nd notes and thus stifle creativity at a more professional level.

Idea 2: Fighting Game Attack/Defend Arrow Pattern Scripting – Create a cast of characters that have their own “move lists” (like a regular fighting game) that’s executed by various arrow patterns for attack and defense.

For example, suppose that each character has three basic arrow patterns that executes “rock”, “paper” and “scissors”. While the music is playing in the background and still with some sort of pulsing arrows or indicator, one player could execute patterns for “rock, rock, scissors” as an attack that the opponent then has to execute “paper, paper, rock” as defense. A player could switch between attack and defense by doing a “toggle” pattern and have to make quick judgement on whether to attack or defend based on the timing of the opponent’s own attack and defense as well as some balancing rules for frequency of attack or defense (like how in Injustice 2, you can’t have a B3/F3 continue a combo if a B3/F3 was already used in a previous part of the combo).

After basic attacks, each cast member could also have their own unique “special moves” – arrow patterns of attack and defense that can deal or absorb more damage or need to have specific reactions against them. Special Moves can be more complex patterns or they could even be slight variations of basic patterns – for example, maybe if “rock” is DFU then “special rock” could be DDFU – something that looks similar but with slight variation. The opponent then needs to throw “special paper” to defend against it, which requires them to be particularly observant and quick about recognizing the difference between “rock” and “special rock”. Other special moves could also throw mines or require extra arrow inputs for basic attack or defense moves of their opponent.

If executed in the right way there aren’t any immediate pitfalls in my mind, the main challenge stems from the fact that there’s no real model for a game like this so it would need to be conceptualized and designed from scratch.

Could something like this gain traction? It’s hard to say. While fighting games still have relevance in today’s video game and eSports world, the competitive music video game scene died years ago in the US. I posit that a lot of that has to do with the rise of home console and internet quality – multiplayer console and PC gaming can happen in the comfort of the home with people across the globe in real time, whereas dance games have always required actual arcade play because of proprietary and quality controllers/dance pads to be truly competitive. A home market for network-based competitive dance gaming seems unlikely too because quality dance pads require extra physical real estate and a price point that could not attract a casual player.

Still, there might be a good avenue for this in the future in some form. We’ll see if i have the time and energy to move it past a conceptual stage and what it’s potential and viability is.

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