The Role of Damage Scaling
Every time i release a new combo video, especially for SF4 or SSF4, someone comes along to declare that “damage scaling makes it worthless.” I have a number of objections to that claim. First, damage scaling makes sense. Second, damage scaling only matters in combo videos when the author says it matters. Third, combo videos and combos in general are a relatively small piece of the complete fighting game puzzle.
Balancing a dynamic combo system is extremely difficult, partly because players demand substantial character variety. I’d be surprised if even 1% of the damage scaling complainers have ever tried drawing up their own hypothetical combo framework as a thought experiment.
We can all agree that practical touch-of-death combos are generally detrimental to game balance. There need to be fair limits on how badly a single minor mistake can punished. The price of whiffing c.MK should not equal the penalty for whiffing an ultra. Furthermore, characters possessing the best mobility and the most offensive mixups probably shouldn’t have the highest damage potential.
How are such considerations governed without confining players to pre-programmed combos? SF4’s solution is a sharp reduction scale which magnifies the first four or five hits, then blurs out the remainder. This affords designers and testers the luxury of managing a reasonable subset of possible sequences while holding the rest to a combined average of less damage than one hard attack. Thus it becomes much easier to identify which characters can get ahead of the curve, then adjust their damage values and frame data accordingly.
All they have to do is make sure nobody can jump out to massive damage in under five moves, particularly not following a safe light attack. For example, C.Viper can combo multiple fierces, so they should inflict below average damage. She can also shorten her normal move recovery times via Thunder Knuckle cancels, so her frame data should restrict which pokes can combo into hard attacks. Obviously her underlying potential for infinites must be addressed as well.
Assigning additional reduction penalties to Focus Attacks and ultra moves was another critical balance decision. Landing a lvl2/lvl3 Focus Attack produces the same combo opening as causing the opponent to whiff a fierce Dragon Punch. You’re rewarded with basically any ground combo you desire, with ample time to choose.
The difference is, it’s much easier to connect that Focus Attack than it is to bait a fierce uppercut, as evidenced by their relative frequency in top-level matches. There’s no way anyone deserves full damage for comboing lvl2 Focus Attack into ultra, considering how they “earned” that meter by getting beat up. Adding extra hits inbetween doesn’t change how conveniently the opening was created.
Remember, combo skill is only 10% of what it takes to be good at fighting games. I’ll never understand why people keep saying “heavy damage scaling doesn’t reward skill.” That SF4 actively de-emphasizes the role of extended combos is a step in the right direction. Fancy combos are for showing off, but solid fundamentals are (and should be) more valuable.
As for combo videos, damage scaling has no bearing on style. The same is true of most technical achievements, such as comboing two Jaguar Teeth or finding different ways to juggle into cinematic Corkscrew Cross. The only time damage matters in a combo video is when a specific combo is clearly geared toward maximizing damage. Otherwise the author doesn’t care, and neither should you.