Round one, how do I fight?

Two armies are poised for their decisive battle, an endurance skirmish that sees squadrons attack and retreat with calculated precision and strategy; the endgame to successfully deplete the opposing side’s resources until the game is won.

Except the squadrons are arms and legs, and instead of playing out over days or even weeks this skirmish is limited to two or three 90-second segments; the scheming, plotting, maneuvering threats to enemy territory occurring in an extremely-compressed timespace. This is Street Fighter II as I know it, and I know it as a fan since 1991.

With my personal friends at spare-time project FireButton Gaming, we’ve been throwing around the idea of something we’ve monickered ‘scrub club’, the idea being to teach absolute newbies the basics of the fine art that is the fighting game.

This is nowhere near as beautiful to outsiders as it is to me.
This is nowhere near as beautiful to outsiders as it is to me.

How does one go about this though, and what of the pratfalls of attempting to do so? In trying to work this out, I’ve realised a couple of things about the genre that I’m going to share. Casual thoughts, nothing more substantial.

Fighting Games Are Chess

They really are. Except instead of six physical representations on a board, there are six (often less) face-button attacks, and many permutations thereof depending on context; is a character crouching, jumping, closer than usual? And whereas chess is played out in turns, the fighting game happens in real time. Strategies have to be formulated on the fly, improvised in mere moments.

Not Everybody Knows How To Play Chess

Sure, buy a travel chess set and there may be a small instruction sheet detailing the basic movements of the pieces. Get luckier and the ‘special move’ of castling is described, and how it works. Luckier still, the fringe mechanic en passant is detailed. Unlucky, and no travel chess set you’ve ever had will help the above sound anything other than a manual written in ancient Hebrew or something. And so it is with fighting games; it’s one thing to describe the humble Hadouken as that quarter-circle-and-punch to launch a projectile, but an unwritten-in-the-instructions concept as to using it for zoning or pressure.

Not Every Fighter Wants To Play Chess

And here’s the rub. Fighting games are a pretty abstract representation of an actual fight. A great deal of them borrow Street Fighter’s projectile-flinging and ramp the concept up to obscene levels, creating a cacophonous array of strategy for controlling an opponent’s available space and resemble a fight as much a sandwich represents a tree: there may be some of the ingredients common to both, but without an innate knowledge of the pair they seem completely divorced from each other. And so, some people look at a fighting game and don’t want to be psyching out an opponent. They don’t want to be ‘controlling space’. They just want to punch things.

In trying to think how to teach those ‘not in the know’ how to play one of my favourite types of game, I have realised what it is I love so dearly about them; and that is that they’re compressed-time games of flamboyant chess.

I just wish I could teach some friends how to play.


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