BGE investigates. The Special Move Problem

Yeah, good luck pulling this shit off in an Xbox 360 controller.

I like fighting games.  For a long, long time I've loved them. My first experience with them was walking into a shop with my dad, and out in the corner, was Street Fighter 2.
After the obligatory parental beggary, I convinced my old man to  lend me of his money to try out this strange machine of wonder, which promised  the excitement of battle.

I lost, of course. I picked Guile because he looked cool, and when you're  7 and playing a random game that's all you need.  I did not know how to play Street Fighter. Guile is a charge character. You're expected to hold back for a few seconds, hold forward, and, not letting go forward push on your choice of 3 out of 6 overall buttons to show a projectile. Which is fair and lovely, once you know it, but as a newbie picking up a game blindly trying to achieve "fun" it's a bit over your head.

He also had a move where you hold down, and then up and a button in a similar fashion. But of course, if you do it wrong, you'll wind up jumping, which is not what you want to be doing in the early 90's because air blocking hasn't been invented yet.

Special Moves as we know them where invented with the first Street Fighter machine, which had pads that you punched and, depending of how much strenght you put into it, would do either regular moves or the now famed Hadouken. But as these pads proved not sturdy enough to withstand the blows of player all over the world, they where replaced with the 6 button layout we all know and love. The Special moves where performed with twirls meant to emulate the movement of Ryu's hands to perform the actual move. And that solved the only problem Street Fighter had and everybody loved it forever.

Diamond in the rough.

Nah, just kidding. A couple years more later Capcom made a sequel to Street Fighter. Now you could play as any of the characters in the game, all of which had different  special moves from Ryu. Well, except Ken. Besides the twirls, we where introduced to the fast tap for characters like Chun Li and Honda, charge attack for characters like Guile, and...I'm told Zangief has Special Moves, too, I'm gonna check back on that.

As you may know, Street Fighter 2 was a huge hit, sucking up money in Arcades, Consoles, and on merchandise. Imitators quickly pulled up on the scene, trying to emulate Capcom's success by emulating Capcom's gameplay and characters. Now, don't get me wrong, imitators doesn't mean that they didn't innovate or that they whern't any good. But basically every fighting game under the sun that was released after SF2 started with a solid Street Fighter base, including the idea and, for the most part, execution of special moves. It just became a thing that fighting games do because that's what a fighting game is.

But I don't think "that's just the way it's always been" is a satisfying answer to why fighting games continue to include special moves. 

I still remember the uproar when Capcom announced MVC3 would have a Simple Mode. The  VS series had always been a simpler take on Capcom's increasingly convoluted Street FIghter series, which continued to pile on technicallities to the allienation of casual fans. But even in that, the concept of being able to pull of special moves without applying rote memorization seemed like giving in to the devil itself.
"Simple"? NEVER!

Rote memorization is so expected, that Netherrealm actually went ahead and added a pay-for-easy-Fatalities option to Mortal Kombat X, to the chagrin of many. But they're not angry they're still expected to learn a secret little jig to perform a key feature in a game, but that someone might bypass it and perform the move without knowing and executing the secret handshake.

When you see what is known as "high level gameplay", rote memorization trumps all.  Once someone figures out the one combo that just  can't be escaped, high level matches start deevolving into a game of who lets their guard down first.
It's either bragging rights in a videogame or keeping those carpals going.

So, do we need Special Moves? There's  no univeral answer, but I'd argue that, no, we don't need them. The 3D side of fighting games that draws more from Virtua Fighter and Tekken, such as Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive has mostly done away with them. The availability of different attacks in there is mostly tied to no more than holding in a direction and pressing one of the attack buttons, or combining two attack buttons. I never had to sit down and read a guide to know the very basic of Tina Armstrong moves.  Soul Calibur  has scores of moves for each character, and most of those aren't tied to twirls and spins.

Now, yes, these games don't have "special moves" as much as "just moves". It's no coincidence that Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat are back to being stuck in a 2D plane. They just couldn't mesh "sidestepping 3D" and "Shooting Fireballs" in a way that makes sense. After all the EX and Armageddon nonsense they're back just pretending that third dimension never existed. But there is another game that does have directional input: Nintendo's Smash Bros.

Some are reluctant to call Smash a fighting game. But why wouldn't it be?  It's got strategy, focuses on combat, and has special moves. It's specials, of course, are tied to pushing a Special button and the direction you push. Like the original Street Fighter, the context it tied to the direction you press: Press Special + Down on the air and if your character has a dive attack that's probably where you'll find it. Press Special + Up to dash upward. It's super simple. You can leave out the memory crap and focus on core fighting strategy.

Now, take out the Party fighter stuff. Imagine you had a traditional, Angry Japanese Guy 2d type fighter. You have a special button. You have a special move for Special + nothing, SP + forward, SP + forward + up, SP + forward + down, SP + down, SP + down + back, SP + back, SP + up + back, SP + up and SP + up + forward. That's 8 Special moves, more than you have for most character in SF 2. You could always have 2 special buttons. You could have 2 variations of each move, just like how in SF you can get different kinds of Fireballs according to which punch button you press. Or you could just have 16 specials, if you're so inclined. And you'd still have 4 core buttons left for those punches and kicks everybody loves.

Sure, you and I know how to pull of a Hadoken. We went through it. But out there, there's a younger us, who sees Scorpion and Sub Zero shooting ice and spears at each other, and he thinks it's the coolest thing he's ever seen. He wants to do that. And if we tie up all the cool stuff behind button combinations no one could figure naturally on their own, he might very justifiably take his buisness elswhere, to another game that DOESN'T Require working knoweledge of a 20 + year game genre to have fun.

Want it or not, casuals ARE the future of fighting games, because every one of us started by casually playing a game for fun. And whether you wound up  winning EVO or just tricking people into thinking Megaman X was in Marvel vs Capcom 3, it all depended on whether you had fun during those first times to see if you stuck with it. If we can put aside our pride for a bit, we could grow the community beyond the people we already have. We could grow fighting games as a genre. And that's good for everyone.


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