Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Nathan Brown laments the absence of online dead arms
At E3, I entered a Street Fighter tournament. For the second year in a row, Capcom was running a singleelimination, best-of-three tourney for members of the press. For a fighting game fan, it’s a hell of a thing, livestreamed on the same Twitch channel that broadcasts Evo, commentated on by the same pundits, and shown on a big screen on the E3 show floor. Last year, I won it, commentators Mike Ross and Peter ‘Combofiend’ Rosas saying how proud the Queen would be that I’d brought the trophy home for England (as if – as any true Brit knows, our Liz is more of a
Capcom Vs SNK 2 gal). Anyway, this year, I didn’t win (the Palace was livid). Last year it was Ultra Street Fighter
IV, but this year we were playing SFV, a game I’d played for only a few hours. Worse still, Capcom had announced only six characters in time for the tournament, and not one of them was called Ken Masters. I’d gone with a familiar, but not familiar enough, character – Ryu, I’m afraid – and lost in the semis to a very good Spanish player. He had a better Ryu than me, certainly, but later, as I sat licking my wounds in a Rise Of The Tomb
Raider presentation, I realised I’d made life even more difficult for myself by making a couple of critical mistakes. They weren’t dropped combos, but psychological errors born of the fact that I have become far too used to playing online against opponents who I can’t see, and can’t see me.
I lost the first round to a series of charged, multi-hit fireballs that were timed to hit me as I was standing up. In SFV, you can’t block these: the first hit breaks your guard, and the final one knocks you down. I got hit by three or four of them in a row, and after the KO turned to my opponent and said, “What am I supposed to do about that?” It’s the sort of thing I’d say all the time while playing online, but you can’t do that in person – I’d shown, and then outright told, an opponent I didn’t know how to deal with one of his tricks. I would lose the final round in similar circumstances, to a charged version of Ryu’s super that moved a whole lot faster than I was expecting.
My other error was to contemplate a character change after that loss, my cursor hovering over Birdie, the lumbering grappler the pro players spent most of E3 wrecking each other with, for a good 30 seconds, before simply picking Ryu again. Had this been online, my foe wouldn’t have seen any of it, since character select is blind. But here, he’d had a 30-second display of my crisis of confidence. He knew I was there for the taking and came at me aggressively. A couple of minutes later, I was sloping forlornly off to Microsoft’s booth, my phone buzzing as irate texts began to stream in from minor royals. I am not alone in this. The best Street
Fighter players I know all agree that the only way to do better in tournaments is to play against human opponents regularly. It’s not just that playing online breeds bad habits, but that local multiplayer has become so rare that we all need to relearn how it works. In my teens, I once won a game of International
Superstar Soccer 64 by giving a friend a dead arm while he took a penalty. That trick might have been frowned upon on the E3 show floor, but the thinking behind it holds true: when your opponent is sitting six inches from you, you can get into their heads. At a recent SFIV tournament, I saw one of my favourite players, PR Balrog, take his seat before a match and shuffle a few inches to the side. When his opponent sat down their arms touched; ’Rog apologised, but didn’t move, forcing his opponent to shuffle a bit.
Street Fighter is a game of controlling space, and he’d started the match the second he sat down. He won, of course.
For the past decade, developers have overwhelmingly catered for the online player, and I get it. For them, it’s a way of keeping the disc in the tray – lengthening user engagement, or whatever they’re calling it this week – with an endless, constantly available multiplayer mode. And it suits me, too: it’s an awful lot easier to sneak in a couple of ranked matches while my wife puts the boy down for the night than it is to get a group of friends together for a tournament in my living room. Online multiplayer brings people together in a way that the games of my youth never could, but we’ve lost some magic along the way: the psychological tricks, the well-placed dead arms, the look on the face of a well-beaten opponent. And in my case, the stern, disapproving look of one seriously pissed-off monarch.
In my teens, I won a game of International Superstar Soccer 64 by giving a friend a dead arm while he took a penalty