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Fighting Games As Chess

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Fighting Games As Chess

At some point, we’ve all tried to explain something we love to someone who knows nothing about it.  It’s a tricky proposition, to be sure, because our enthusiasm on the topic tends to create a tendency for us to inundate the poor, unsuspecting soul with more information than they’re able to process in such a short amount of time and with such a small point of reference.  Just as often, however, we often go too far in our attempts to avoid information overload.  Consider the following example of someone describing the show “Lost” to someone who has no idea what the show is about:

“Lost” fan:  I just completed my “Lost” collection on DVD.  You need to watch it some time, you’d love it!

Friend of “Lost” fan:  Oh yeah, what’s the show about?

“Lost” fan:  It’s about a bunch of people who get stranded on a deserted island, and are trying to escape.

Friend of “Lost” fan:  Oh, so it’s like “Gilligan’s Island”!

At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising for the “Lost” fan to become exasperated or indignant, but given the information that the uninitiated friend was provided, their comparison to “Gilligan’s Island” was a reasonable, though obviously incorrect, one.

This leads us to the topic du jour, fighting games.  A commonly used oversimplification of the genre can be found in an article from The Examiner that made the rounds on Shoryuken and other gaming websites a couple of months ago, titled “Why Fighting Games Suck”:

Being “good” at fighters isn’t so much about actually having skill as it is having experience with the game and memorizing all of a character’s techniques (which can be a ridiculously lengthy list). Once you can perform any technique at will, the only thing you need to do to become “good” is play the game enough to learn what beats what. Then, when your opponent performs a Dragon Uppercut you know you have to counter with a Fireball immediately. This isn’t skill at the actual game, it’s just memorization of a rock, paper, scissors mechanic.

The “Rock, Paper, Scissors” analogy gets used a lot.  Even the Super Street Fighter IV strategy guide mentions it, mentioning how blocks beat attacks, throws beat blocks, and attacks beat throws.  For a beginner, this may seem like a useful analogy, but it leaves out concepts like “Anti-air attacks”, “overheads”, and so on.  If someone new to fighting games doesn’t know right away that there are other aspects to the game, they may become frustrated by how they are constantly having to learn new things all the time.  While such a reaction can certainly be attributed to a degree of laziness, I find a different analogy using another well-known game properly prepares one eager to learn more about fighting games for the high degree of complexity the genre offers:

Chess.

Now, for those of you who aren’t fighting game fans, hold tight a minute.  I need to address anyone who might possibly ever read this article that is a fighting game fan, and to them I say, I know what you’re thinking:  “Oh, come on, I’ve seen fighting games compared to chess millions of times!”  And you’re right.  When describing the intricate anticipation, planning, and baiting done at high levels of play, many fighting game fans compare it to a chess match between grand masters of the game.  However, what I’m about to say is not “Fighting games are like a chess match”, but “Fighting games are like chess, but the rules allow both players to move at the same time.”

So, fighting game experts and novices, let’s move past the preamble to the crux of our discussion, shall we?

There are many ways in which the “Fighting Games As Chess” analogy falls short.  David Sirlin does an excellent job of dissecting how these two games differ in the following:

 

Still, as you’ll soon see, the analogy has more than a little merit, when you think of the individual pieces in chess as the basic tools every fighting game character has in his or her arsenal.

(Note:  For fighting game enthusiasts, you should note that I’m using Super Street Fighter IV as the baseline for these comparisons, as it serves as both a recent example and as a broad cross-section of fighting game mechanics that are seen across the board.  Some of these elements may not apply to, say, Virtua Fighter or Tekken, but those games have unique elements that are not as commonly used in other fighters, and thus don’t serve the purpose of explaining fighting games to a beginner as well.)

Let us first consider the underappreciated pawn:

Chess Pawn Moves

The pawn moves only one square forward at a time, and can only capture pieces that are diagonally in front of them.  They’re hard to use, and most beginning chess players are unable to use them effectively.  They are, however, the most common piece on the board, and in order to become a master, you must understand how to use them to their fullest potential.

The pawns in fighting games are your “normal” attacks.  They’re simple, straightforward, and not only do they lack the flash, utility, or damage of many other types of attacks, they can be notoriously difficult to use effectively.  Consider trying to string together any number of normal attacks.  What are you able to perform?  Most beginners can chain together light attacks or do a “jump kick, sweep” combo, and nothing else.  Masters, however, understand how normal attacks work, under which circumstances they can be used together (sometimes requiring execution as fast as 1/60th of a second), and how to use them with special attacks, et al.  Just like the pawn, you must master normal attacks to have any hope of becoming a champion fighting game player.

Next, the Rook:

Chess Moves Rook

An incredibly powerful piece, considered second only to the Queen.  Unlike the pawn, it can move all the way across the board unless another piece blocks its path.  It can easily destroy other pieces or be used to place the opponent in checkmate.  It does, however, have the glaring weakness in that it only moves in a straight line, so there are obvious blind spots in its path of attack, making it vulnerable to all the other pieces on the board, which all have the ability to move diagonally from where it begins its turn (including the lowly pawn when it captures another piece).

Special moves, like the fireball or jumping uppercut (a.k.a. “shoryuken” or “dragon punch”) are the fighting game equivalent of the Rook.  Powerful, useful moves that are a staple of any player’s offense.  Like the Rook, special moves also have a glaring weakness:  they typically have a set path of attack, and once the player understands the “blind spots” in a special attack, they are able to counter it in any number of ways.

Now, the Bishop:

Chess Bishop Moves

The Bishop, like the Rook, can travel across the board if unimpeded, and has considerable power, though less so than the Rook due to the fact that a Bishop can only travel on the same color squares that it begins the game on, meaning that an individual Bishop only has access to half the board, and thus simply cannot be used to take out certain pieces or checkmate pieces in a given position.

For it’s fighting game equivalent, we must consider an aspect of fighting games that is more relatively recent, and not one that was seen in the early days of Street Fighter II and its ilk:  the “EX” move (to use the Super Street Fighter IV parlance).  Most modern 2-D fighting games have taken the “Super Combo” meter from Super Street Fighter II Turbo and expanded its use so that you can use a portion of the meter to perform more powerful versions of a character’s special attacks.  Although technically more damaging and often more useful than regular special attacks, they can only be performed if your “Super Combo” meter is filled to a certain amount, therefore making them analogous to the useful-yet-limited Bishop.

Our next subject is the tricky Knight:

Chess Knight Moves

The Knight is a rather unusual piece because it moves in a pattern, rather than a direction, making it difficult to grasp its full potential at first, but a highly effective piece once mastered.  What makes the Knight so valuable is the fact that it has the ability to put the opponent in checkmate even if other pieces are between it and the King.

What you consider the Knight’s equivalent in a fighting game to be really depends on what fighting game you’re playing.  The piece is representative of abilities or mechanics that are incorporated into a game to make it distinct from other fighting games on the market.  Examples of this would include “Focus Attacks” in Super Street Fighter IV, “Guard Impacts” from Soulcalibur IV, or “Barrier Bursts” in BlazBlue.  A fighting game may have more than one type of “Knight” in it, but the “Knight” is representative of these mechanics as a distinctive whole, rather than any one element.  In order to truly master and understand a fighting game, it is essential that you learn how to best use these unique elements, lest you fall prey to those that know how to use these mechanics to their advantage.

Now, we get to the Queen:

Chess Queen's Moves

The Queen is universally considered to be the most powerful piece in the game.  This is due to the fact that she can do the most damage to your opponent by being able to attack from any direction, and successful implementation of the Queen into a match all but assures victory.  However, the opponent is always aware of the threat that the Queen possesses, and will often focus its attention on nullifying the Queen or removing it from the board outright, thus making overuse of the Queen a dangerous and costly proposition.

Though not a perfect analogy, the “finishing move” is the fighting game equivalent of the Queen.  Whether it’s an Ultra Combo in Super Street Fighter IV, a Hyper Combo in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, or an Astral Finish in BlazBlue, every fighting game player simultaneously loves and fears that brief pause before their most powerful and dramatic attack connects, often ending a round or a match.  Though these attacks are similar to our “Bishop” in that their use is often extremely situational, for the purposes of this analogy it’s important to remember the following:

  • They are the most powerful piece in a player’s arsenal of attacks, as well as the one most closely guarded against. 
  • When used successfully by an expert, they can assure victory. 
  • When misused, they often lead to disaster.

So, despite the fact that they lack the Queen’s versatility in Chess, they are still clearly the fighting game analog to the powerful piece.

Finally, we come to the most important piece in Chess – The King:

Chess King's Moves

The King’s importance comes not from his ability to take capture an opponent’s pieces on the board, but rather from the fact that victory or defeat hinges on your ability to capture the opponent’s king before he can capture yours, and thus a player must always be mindful of where their King is at all times and guard him from an opponent’s onslaught.  This also means being very judicious when using a King to capture another piece, because doing so can quickly lead to defeat.

It isn’t hard to see that in fighting games, the King is clearly your character’s life bar.  Once it’s gone, you lose.  But the comparison goes deeper in that.  While the life bar in a fighting game clearly can’t affect your opponent’s relative health, it does play a role in offense.  Having a large life lead in a match can provide a significant psychological advantage, as the opponent has to remain defensive in order to prevent losing what precious little life they have left.  If a player is too reckless in pressing their advantage, however, they may find that they soon have no advantage left, giving their opponent the opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

And there we have it:  a long-winded, impractical, overwrought comparison of fighting games to chess.  But, should any of you fighting game fans out there ever decide to read this, consider this article the next time you try to describe the genre to someone.  Perhaps the idea of a fast-paced game of chess might just be mental stimulation your friends have been looking for.

 

Original Article :

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