Interactive Tutorial Mode Design Proposal
For newcomers to the genre, learning how to play fighting games involves a ton of failure and very little guidance or encouragement. Traditionally, every version of Street Fighter has presupposed a commitment from the player to learn the game at any cost. In all these years, fighting games have yet to make a serious effort to meet new players halfway.
Compared to a first-person shooter like Counter-Strike, there’s almost nothing intuitive about Street Fighter at first glance. What’s the strongest attack? What’s the fastest move? How do you block throws? How do fireballs work? How is super meter used? What does offensive crouch do?
How do you know when to use which button? There’s no clear-cut answer to that question. Their names don’t mean anything! Guile’s standing roundhouse kick serves a completely different purpose in SSF2 than the same exact button for Bison. Guile’s far s.HK is reactionary anti-air defense, whereas Bison’s far s.HK is an offensive mid-range ground poke.
Sadly, new players aren’t even told that the button layout isn’t meant to be organized by purpose or usefulness. At the very least, they deserve to be shown how to sort attacks into basic functional categories: pokes, anti-airs, knockdowns, overheads, reversals, etc.
What’s the best way to accomplish this? Mini-games! It’s really not that difficult to come up with fun little missions which spotlight individual skills or concepts. Everyone enjoys smashing the car in SF2 and parrying basketballs in SF3 – even people who don’t play fighters.
I don’t think console fighting games need an “Arcade Mode” anymore. It’s basically there out of tradition, but moreso due to laziness. Replace that with a mode that actually teaches how to play any character in the game.
Stage 1: The player must break a steady stream of barrels rolling on the ground at regular speed. All they need to do is find an attack that hits the right space and time it properly. Missed barrels should hit the character without causing knockdown, because nobody would enjoy getting knocked down all the time.
There’s always an “X/10” type of counter on the screen to show the player’s progress. If two minutes go by without any progress, a text box pops up to give the player some tips. The interval gradually increases so as not to become annoying: 2 mins, 5 mins, 12 mins, etc.
Stage 2: Next we make the barrels fall from the sky, so the player has to find reliable anti-air. Breaking 10 falling barrels will help players get used to the timing and spacing of the attack.
Stage 3: Now we randomize the barrel angles, forcing the player to react high or low. With each broken barrel, the rhythm becomes increasingly unpredictable.
Stage 4: Finally we introduce glowing barrels and tell the player that they must be broken with special moves. Of course we’d list the character’s special moves in the same text box, and keep the barrels rolling really slowly so there’s plenty of time for the player to react.
We only need around five of these because we don’t want anyone to get stuck on this part of the game. The only goal is to get the player to recognize special moves as a viable tool.
Stage 5: Once that’s overwith, we make the player face off against a cyborg/dummy. We only need to design one extra character for this – not too much work. Right off the bat, make the dummy super-defensive.
Basically it moves around but it blocks everything. Now the player has to figure out how to beat blocking, which requires either special moves for block damage or learning to throw.
In Ryu’s case, the dummy usually blocks fireballs but sometimes jumps over them. Against Hurricane Kick, the dummy blocks half the time and ducks the other half of the time, but Ryu usually escapes without harm. If the player tries a Dragon Punch, Ryu almost always gets hit when he lands.
This exercise teaches players the value of throws while also giving them an idea of the risks associated with attempting specials. After all, special moves are typically the slowest attacks in any character’s arsenal.
Stage 6: Once the defensive dummy is dead, we introduce a more offensive dummy – one that’s very, very jumpy. The goal is to use anti-air attacks. The dummy will walk back/forward until it establishes the standard jumping range, then repeatedly attempt air attacks. The player will be forced into some experimentation to find which anti-air attacks have the best priority and the highest success rate. Again the objective is to kill the dummy.
Stage 7: The next step is to teach the player how to block. Instead of infinite vitality/time, the round starts with 10 seconds on the clock, the player has 90% life and the dummy has 10% life – but the dummy is super-reactive, like SFA3 CPU Akuma when he walks towards you.
Any button the player touches, they get punished. Essentially the goal is to survive and all they have to do is block. Maybe we can make this even more symbolic by having the dummy glowing with electricity – so that if you attack it, you get electrocuted outright. That’ll leave the dummy totally free to attack with jump-ins, which will force the player to block high/low. It’s still not too difficult because the player will have to lose 80% life in order to be defeated.
Stage 8: Next up, we teach keep-away. Give the dummy a grappler stance and make it constantly walk forward. It very rarely attacks, but it always throws whenever it gets within SPD range. So the goal is to use long-range pokes to keep it away. Of course if you mistime the attack and whiff, you get thrown – thus it teaches timing as well. Once the dummy is low on health, it kind of almost starts to play footsies. Instead of holding forward, it walks back and forth so it gets a little tricky to land that final hit.
And so on, and so forth. We might go back to the barrel stages and teach players to do cancels. Basically roll out one regular barrel followed closely by a special barrel, so executing normal move xx special move is the only way to break both. There are limitless creative teaching opportunities to be explored here.
After each level, we might display a congratulatory screen and sneakily play a pre-recorded video of expert-level highlights on that stage. For example with the jumping dummy, we can show Ryu walking forward slightly to anti-air with standing roundhouse; walking under the opponent and throwing; going for air-to-air jumping roundhouse; and landing a deep Shoryuken for heavy damage. Essentially we’re forcing the player to think for themselves so it sticks, and then showing them how it’s really done so it clicks.
Eventually the player works their way through the dummy sessions and the game declares that they’re ready to face their rival. That’s when they play against a real SF character with no limitations. Once they win, they unlock an achievement and maybe some cool artwork. It can even unlock Arcade Mode if someone insists on including it in the package.
I think this would go a long way toward making “hardcore” fighting games accessible to casual gamers, because it’ll highlight the puzzle-solving aspects of Street Fighter. Most people never think to think of Street Fighter as a puzzle game – but that crucial step must be taken long before the stylish aspects or the mindgames ever come into view.