Fighting games and all that surrounds it is inherently insular. There are no other genres that focus so much on netcode variance and frame counting because no other genres demand it to be successful. Up until the Cross Assault debacle in February of last year, few people even knew that the fighters and fans referred to themselves as the FGC, or fighting game community. It’s not impenetrable by any means, but the effort to get involved does lie squarely in your hands.
That ideal extends to most of the games themselves as well (and, in broader strokes, most other eSports games, but let’s keep it focused for now). I’ve only just started Injustice: Gods Among Us—so expect a review coming soon—since press copies went out in odd phases, but even going halfway through the story mode and a few matches deep into online multiplayer isn’t required to see that it has the same problem most fighting games have, and that’s that they provide little to no context for your knowledge.
Imagine having never seen or heard of a hammer or screwdriver or saw before and someone simply hands you a toolbox and says to build a house. You have all the tools and all the supplies like wood and nails and paint but you have no idea how each piece is used to accomplish the task. A brief tutorial teaches you that hammers hit things and saws cut things, but how do you properly frame a wall? How big do you make windows and how do you make a roof that doesn’t collapse? Do you know how to lay a foundation? All of these are so impossibly important to building a house that is and will stay a house, but you don’t understand how to do any of it because all you have the tools and none of the knowledge.
That’s what Injustice: Gods Among Us‘ tutorial mode is like, though to be fair, that’s what almost all fighting game tutorials are like. I used to be into fighting games (namely the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat franchises) but never to the degree of being competitive; I simply appreciated the pure skill required to become good at them. So my peripheral education of ancillary tactics such as turtling and proper mitigation and use of meter is at best rudimentary, but I can intuit even how most other fighting games work because this base level of knowledge gives them context.
That learning started before tutorials were a standard part of games but continued as they emerged as necessities. As first-person shooters teach you how to aim and that grenades are for lumped up groups of enemies, fighting games provide little more than a bare, interactive instruction manual. Is there any reason why I wouldn’t always use a wakeup attack? Wait, so there are different character types that interact with the environment differently? This lacks, as I said, context, which isn’t all that surprising given this is from a community that often says “three-button fighter” like it was a whole chapter in your How to be a Human handbook.
Of course, that is some of the fun in this and all games: figuring stuff out. It’s fun to learn how discretely listed combos can actually be strung together into mega combos or how you can use environmental bits to launch juggles. It’s fun when you begin to understand how much health you can knock off with each character’s super so gauging when you can end a match becomes almost second nature. Piecing together the basics of some framework into a larger structure of your own creation is what video games are all about.
But a nudge in the right direction shouldn’t be too much to ask for. Throw beginners a bone to know that some attacks are fast and can interrupt other ones that have a longer startup time. Give them a heads-up what the fudge the block advantage number means in the moves list. How about a tip off that the health bars represent rounds of a match and aren’t just two layers of a continuous block of health so maybe don’t use your super when they’re one sliver away from their second bar?
Like I said, figuring stuff out is the inherent fun in video games, but that doesn’t mean it has to be obfuscated or ostensibly insurmountable from the outset. It’s a fine balance to strike between being informative and being annoying, cloyingly hand-holding so that you feel more like a swaddled baby and less like a capable gamer. Fighting games, however, seem to have mostly given up on attempting to find that balance and instead assume you’re knee-deep in the culture already.
Most of us, however, aren’t, and even those of us with at least a working knowledge of the scene either out of work or habitual obligation are feeling a little stiffed on the matter. So how about a little context the next time around, huh? Or I guess I could keep trying to cut this 2×4 in half with a handful of drill bits.