‘m not exactly a SFV enthusiast myself to say the least but somebody has to take on the role of the contrarian…
It should be noted that I wrote this response after asking for permission first.
Hopefully y’all will find my alternative view on the subject intriguing.
Start by watching the video from beginning to end, and then come back to this text.
The title of the video implies it’s going to be talking about “reducing the skill gap”, and it mostly criticizes SFV for allegedly doing so.
I don’t like the use of the word “skill” here because it implies that the skill in a game is some singular thing and that whole thing was reduced, which is wrong. In fact, fighting games consist of several different types of skills, with each game and even character in the genre requiring varying amounts of each skill. Skills such as execution, knowledge, pattern recognition, appraisal (the ability to recognize what’s good and what’s not within an unfamiliar rule set and situation), and more.
Even each skill can be divided into different forms which all come into play. For example, ‘execution’ can be about being able to pull off a hard maneuver, but it can also be about doing that 300th hadouken in a row without any input error, or be about being able to keep your usual level of execution even under pressure. A player can be good at one of these but not at the other two, and that’s before getting into the other skills required to succeed.
And yet a large portion of the video only talks about hard execution (of the first type mentioned) and implies that hard execution is the main factor that makes a game interesting for the hardcore players. Surely there are many execution fans out there, but many others find the genre appealing despite the execution, and not because of it.
The video starts with glorifying the Daigo parry moment and its popularity. Yes, hard execution is at the core of its popularity as a viral video, but that does not mean it’s the raison d’être of the genre. In fact theoretically you can have an impressive comeback that’s impressive by displaying the other skills- A comeback that’s involving a big string of correct predictions based on nuanced game knowledge. It will be a display of great skill but it won’t be viral, because to appreciate it visually the viewer needs to already be an expert in the game’s nuances. It may even involve split second decisions that come by too fast to even digest. A casual viewer will never be able to “get it” and be impressed by it. But the parry moment also happens to have the qualities of a viral video- It’s short, visually obvious (blue flashes on screen must be something big because the crowd is cheering), simplistic (it basically all one decision, not multiple decisions), and easy to explain to a non-player (“that blue flashy thing is requires you to press in a very tight timing”).
It will be indeed fair to view it as an entry level “flashy commercial” to the genre (mostly because of the cheering crowd) but it really does not represent the interesting aspects of the genre as a whole. If anything, predicting the opponent’s actions and countering them accordingly is a better candidate for a genre representative skill, as it involves stuff from all the other important skills in it (execution, knowledge, pattern recognition, appraisal).
What the video did not address at all, is how the lowered execution damaged the other aspects of the game (knowledge, pattern recognition, appraisal…) because it doesn’t. If these aspects are having problems, then it’s a story unrelated to the execution aspect, as presented in the video.
If it’s easy to parry Chun’s super with Ryu’s parry in SFV, that’s a nice fan service treat, and actually a nod to the competitive scene, but it really doesn’t harm the game. Only Ryu has a parry, and it’s much weaker than in SF3, and not a dominating option select friendly mechanic. It has a whiff animation and requires more risk now. It’s actually hard to use in a normal match when you don’t have a super flash that signals the next attack’s timing for you, so comparing parrying Chun’s super in both games is a misleading way to look at things.
Now back to the claim that lowering execution harmed the game- This was never properly explained, and I think even an opposite case can be made. Never mind Combofiend’s PR talk of “everyone can be a champion now”, as we all know how companies like throwing the buzzword ‘accessibility’ around for literally every game nowadays. It doesn’t actually say anything about the games themselves, so let’s only judge the games themselves.
Guilty Gear Xrd made almost every mechanic and every character much easier relative to how it was in the XX series, even things many players will not even notice (like increasing the input buffer window for reversals), and I think the game turned out fine for the most part. The way YRC was built even created additional options on top of the staple ones FRC was commonly used for.
SFV’s design is a direct result of trying to address the problems with SFIV. In SFIV the execution actually did damage the other aspects, as the powerful options selects, once mastered, reduced the need to predict the opponent’s decisions correctly. So removing this aspect of execution from SFV actually made it better if you find the other skills interesting.
Now I’m going to address all the specific examples given one by one:
Bonchan: Complains about Boxer according to the video. What does this have to do with lowered execution?
Smash: This feels like opening an unrelated can of worms. Everyone hated the addition of tripping in Brawl, both hardcore and casual players. That was “luck”. Nothing in SFV is “luck” in comparison. Predicting the opponent’s action is surely uncertain, but tripping depends on a random value chosen by the game and has nothing to do with your nor the opponent’s decisions.
FChamp: Talks about closing the gap but doesn’t mention how exactly. It later continues into talking about easier combos. The combo being easy wasn’t the thing that made you get hit in the first place… Now you are paying for your mistakes by more people, not just that one guy with godlike execution. How is that a bad thing if you wanted a deep game that will push you to your limits? If the game is flawed, then it has to do with other factors first and foremost, and people should try to define those. The lack of execution requirements only makes existing qualities more apparent than usual.
Also, Nage started playing Guilty Gear in 2009. Other players have been playing the game at high levels 7 years prior. Does him being a top player mean the game suddenly started sucking? That the “skill gap” got shorter? Or does it simply mean the dude performs well? It’s really condescending to imply the new talent, who work just as hard as you, only win because there’s something wrong with the game.
Gamerbee: Complains that he can’t express himself because optimized combos are easy. Umm… so what? Why is he looking for “combo self expression” in a fighting game with short and unversatile combos? The problem isn’t execution but wanting a Street Fighter to provide you with things you can easily get from other games that are more suitable for it. Also, why can’t he express himself in other ways than combos? Why not in how he played during neutral? That’s the most obvious difference I spot when I watch different top players of the character I main in various games.
Lack of defensive options: Again, if this is a problem with the game, it has nothing to do with “reducing a skill gap”. How did you get into a bad position in the first place if not by making a mistake during neutral? If offense is so effective, and you are the better player, then you should be the one dominating neutral and getting those offensive opportunities more often.
Brian F: Outright says Capcom balances the game with the goal of the viewer seeing different characters on streams every patch. That’s extremely solipsistic of him if he was completely serious. In reality developers try the best they can to balance all the characters while still keeping the unique flavor of each character. Every imbalance is caused by this task being extremely hard to achieve, and that’s all there is to it.
Input lag: While it’s annoying as hell, I think it’s wrong to take it to the direction of “reaction vs prediction”. The native input lag of every game, big or small, affects every move in the same manner. The developers then have full control over the speed of all the moves and take this delay into consideration when designing the speed of each move.
Some moves cannot be reacted to. Some moves can be reacted to only if you wait and expect them specifically. Some moves can be easily reacted to unless you fell asleep during the match. Which moves you can and can’t react to is all by design and has nothing to do with the amount of native lag.
Rising Thunder one button DP and Guilty Gear defensive options: This is where I take Sirlin’s position, that fighting games as a genre in real time already have plenty of execution even without adding anything extra on purpose. And this native execution is also the most interesting kind of execution because it is tied with your predictions. In Rising Thunder they added a timer to limit the one button DP usage. But dragon punches normally have a very specific motion not just to make them hard on purpose, but shape the way you can utilize the move. While being knocked down, you get to input the motion and “prepare” the DP for free. But during neutral the motion requires you to let go of your defense for a split second and take a risk, and that’s even before the inherent risk of the move itself on block. It requires you to predict the timing of the opponent’s attack extremely well in order to utilize. And this quality is what makes this type of execution so interesting.
The defensive options in Guilty Gear exist because the offense in this game is so crazy that it needs some checks and balances. They are not hard to perform, but they require you to correctly predict the pattern of attack, or else you get punished for trying them. This is another example where “execution” (at least in the case of Instant Block) it tied with decision making. It’s an expression of you predicting where the opponent is going to use that specific move that’s weak against IB, and it forces the opponent to mix the attack patterns better. Faultless Defense, despite not requiring tight timing, also produces a similar tactical result.
In conclusion, as someone who isn’t deep inside the SFV business, I didn’t understand what exactly are the fundamental problems of the game and where they stem from; not from the video and not from the vocal part of its community. I’ll be happy to be informed about it and maybe even discuss further.