Justin C. Williams of Park City, Utah details a basic history of fighting games and what makes them so popular.
In the realm of competitive video games—arena shooters aside—there is no genre that has a skill ceiling quite as high as fighting games. Fighting games follow the ancient philosophy set forth by games like chess and Tetris: easy to pick up and play, extremely difficult to master. Because the skill ceiling in fighting games is so high, Justin C. Williams of Park City points out, watching a fighting game tournament can be an extremely high-tension experience.
Fighting games pit one player against another, usually on a two-dimensional plane and usually in a two to three-round structure. Characters fight each other until either the timer runs out or one person’s health bar is depleted. Most of the time, fighting games contain special commands that can be input to perform special moves. Fighting games have been compared to chess (albeit a faster-paced, real-time version of chess). Justin C. Williams of Park City, Utah explains that this is because fighting games are about “reading” your opponents, attempting to figure out what their next moves are going to be, and putting yourself in a position to counter them.
Fighting games have a roster of characters to choose from, each with their own unique move lists, pros, and cons. Because of this, most people who play competitively choose one or two “mains” they focus on learning, so they can better understand and execute their characters. Depending on who their opponent is, Justin C. Williams of Park City explains, the way a character is played may change entirely. Most fighting games utilize “rock-paper-scissors” rules, wherein certain moves take priority over others depending on the type of move and the height of the attack being performed.
Of course, Justin C. Williams of Park City, Utah points out, every fighting game has its own unique rules and quirks, not to mention a unique roster of characters. Street Fighter II, released in 1991, is credited with solidifying the basic rules of fighting games as outlined above. In the nature of first-person shooters originally being titles as “DOOM clones”, for a long time, fighting games were also referred to as “Sreet Fighter II clones”.
Mortal Kombat, infamous for its controversial depictions of violence at the time of its release, is notable for its unique graphical style, in which digitally altered photographs of real-life actors were inserted into the game as sprites. Justin C. Williams notes that even as fighting games began transitioning to 3D, the basic gameplay remained the same: even though the full range of three-dimension movement was now possible, this is usually limited to side-stepping into or out of the fore or background, and the classic side view of the players is retained in major fighting games to this day.
There are an insane amount of choices when it comes to choosing a fighting game to dive into, and it can be fairly overwhelming to choose one to begin with—Justin C. Williams of Park City, Utah suggests finding one that appeals most to you, figuring out which mechanics appeal to you most, and going from there. The number one rule of learning a fighting game: don’t get discouraged!