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The Unbalanced Design of Super Smash Bros (forrestthewoods.com)
203 points by wgx on Nov 20, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 79 comments

I'm not sure I agree with his interpretation of his own results. By my reckoning, 4 of the top 5 characters have been continuously in the top 5 for the entire 12-year duration (with Jigglypuff the sole exception and by FAR the most interesting data point in the whole thing).

Sure, some of the bottom places shuffled around a bit in the intervening time, but if SSBM is anything like the other competitive games I play, that's probably only because the people making the list don't really have strong opinions about them. Every competitive player is going to pay attention to who's #1-5 in the metagame, but do you really think they devote as much attention to whether Bowser should be #25 or #26? They probably pick those on a whim based on whatever recent experience they had.

That explains the volatility at the bottom rankings. I don't think it's because the pros are plumbing the depths of the game to find new strategies to move a character from second-worst to third-worst.

You would be surprised. I was apart of the smash community for a long time. I can attribute part of this to people being very attached to characters and like what's been mentioned with the way the game was created (catering to "casuals") much of the tier listings would change over time due to new bugs or people just trying to push the limit for certain characters.

We can see artifacts of this with the combo videos competitive players would put out.

While I agree competition and the metagame was the real objective (like in CCGs for example) people did like looking in the crevices for that next thing that could give their character that extra wave dash or what have you. I dare say that's what made smash so much fun.

Could you explain what is meant by the "meta-game"? The author explained a little, but I'm still not clear and have never played myself. Was there an actual game-within-a-game? Or was there just a style of play where everyone agreed to eliminate all outside assets and play with only each character's native powers?

The metagame (or "the meta") is the long-term game in which the moves are "I am going to play this character/deck and practice/use these strategies" -- decisions you make at the beginning, or before, play starts in the base game and the rounds are complete games of the base game.

Learning new information about the base game (or it being updated by the developers) changes what moves are best in the metagame — but as this knowledge propagates through the player base, the probability distribution of what-you-will-be-facing changes, which also changes the best choices of meta-moves.

For an example of why metagames are more than just knowledge about the base game, suppose that we have a fighting game with character A (or a CCG with a player-designed deck A) who is well-rounded and B who doesn't do so well in most cases but is good at beating A. Then even if the base game doesn't change at all and nobody learns a new trick, B is a good choice if and only if lots of other people are playing A — meaning you have a dynamical system.

A lively metagame keeps things interesting because players keep doing new (or dusting off old) things to defeat the current things, rather than sticking to what works — because "what works" changes. It avoids the problem of "X is best, so either you ignore other parts of the game or you are deliberately playing suboptimally".

This is completely true, the top 4 characters in the original melee tier list are the same 4(in a different order) in the current day tier list. If you want to be competitive at melee your best bet is to get good with the spacies (fox or falco).

I remember playing SSBM in a college environment before Youtube. It was interesting to see how the discovery and exploitation of certain moves and abilities on campus over time shifted who people would use.

One day somebody discovers the "Falcon Knee" and destroys everyone. Suddenly people are picking C.Falcon a little more often. Or the sweet spots with Marth. Suddenly Marth is picked a lot more. Same with Luigi's neutral A drop kick/foot. Or Peach's down-smash on a slope.

I think the relative lack of shared video footage of other people playing contributed to a lot of tier-changing within isolated groups. Moves are kinda discovered on accident, get refined, and ultimately change the dynamics of the game a little.

I remember the same thing happening. While SSM was out by the time I was in college, my friends and I played a lot of the N64 version. When one of us really discovered Jiggly Puff—and learned how to pull off her "sleeper" move—it began to spread around. Interesting to see a parallel dynamic happening in Melee.

By the way, if anybody is interested in this article and wants to read more about competitive game design and competitive game balance, they should check out Dave Sirlin[1], a former competitive fighting game player and game designer who's written a lot on the subject. He has an article on how he rebalanced Puzzle Fighter, and an article for each character that he wrote for rebalancing Street Fighter II Super Turbo HD Remix, with some really interesting insights about what makes a character powerful or balanced or unbalanced.

[1]: http://www.sirlin.net/article-archive/

One thing that this graph doesn't capture is that, especially for Peach, Ice Climbers, and Mewtwo, a single player has brought each of those characters into the limelight.

These kinds of graphs don't translate well into MOBAs because the team size (5), character count (100+) and drafting mode (ban/pick/ban/pick) tend to create very stale metagames if the game is not rebalanced from time to time. That said, both Riot and Valve have made some pretty crazy balance decisions in the last 12 months.

Author here! A lot of folks have said exactly that. I'm gonna work on a 2nd post that talks about the 'why' a bit more. There does seem to be a strong correlation between a characters rise and specific players who played them.

That post will hopefully come soon. Thanksgiving makes it a little difficult to get out quickly as I'd like.

I'm hoping to see Yoshi come up in the ranks because of aMSa.

Make sure you include an excellent shot of Mango.

I strongly disagree.

We haven't seen a MOBA go without patches long enough to test if your theory is correct. Defense of the Ancients ended up at version 6.85 before develop ceased. League gets biweekly patches. DotA2 get monthly patches.

The time scale we are talking about is 5-10 years of fixed metagame development. Which in nearly all games where this happened (primarily fighters and board games) we do continue to see metagame development as long as the game is played competitively.

To assume one subgenre is excluded form this ignores the present data, and makes an assumption that the game is incredibly shallow.

Dota 2 monthly patches are generally not actual game play changes. They're mostly additions of cosmetic items and fixes for the Dota 2 platform.

The thing with Dota 2 and other Dota clones is that the depth (problem space) is way too big. There's no way competitive teams would have the time to explore all the combinations and still be successful in a reasonable time frame, with the same roster.

That's why every 3-6 months Icefrog (the main developer behind Dota/the game design lead for Dota 2) makes game balance changes: slight nerfs on the most popular heroes and generally slightly higher buffs on the least popular heroes. The main intent is to break this natural tendency of humans to "cluster".

Yes but the natural tendency to cluster is what leads to meta-game develop. As players cluster, better plays will attempt to find what counters this cluster, what its tactics are and what it is weak too. This leads to actual competition and exploration of the game, and competing strategies.

The bi-monthy(ish) patch cycle prevents this, and just leads to players chasing patch notes.

But I agree with you. The current patch system prevent this from happening. This is why we see such diverse play styles in games like chess, go, and older 1v1 fighters. Since the stagnant nature forces experimentation.

The amount of combinations is way too large for changes to happen fast enough (strategies/tactics/selection of characters).

Look how long it took for some of the characters presented in this game to surface (6-8 years for some)- that cycle could literally take decades for some heroes in Dota & co. I actually like patches as a forcing function in this case.

Your examples are actually great at proving my point: it took decades if not centuries for the current varied chess and go strategies to emerge. By that point we won't care about Dota & co anymore, we'll all be in the Matrix :)

I still disagree. The Sicilian Defense evolved in only a weekend at a single tournament. Where Kings Pawn was such a popular opening, that several players started to counter with what would become the Sicilian. A large amount of the non-dragon/accelerated dragon play of the Sicilian was literally developed over night.

If your theory is correct highly complex games like Chess, Dota, and Go this shouldn't possible. Yet we've seen it happen.

All that has to take place is clustering, not optimal clustering just clustering.

You are (mostly) talking about 1v1 games. The dynamics are entirely different in team games. Have you ever persuaded your team to follow your strategy (especially a "weird" one, according to canon)? I can assure you it's hard even if you are considered your team's leader.

We're also probably attacking the problem from different angles - I'm mostly thinking about completely disregarded strats/characters.

For example in Dota push strategies (where you try to overwhelm your opponents very early in the game, a sort of all-in strategy) were valid during a very short period, one of about 6-9 months in 2008, IIRC. Then they were basically impossible until 2012.

Also some heroes have been constantly bottom tier ever since competitive Dota started in ~2006 (Spirit Breaker - I'm looking at you!).

It's much more easier to experiment as a single player. Once you get more people involved, social dynamics start happening. And there's nothing harder to budge than social inertia, IMO.

> The bi-monthy(ish) patch cycle prevents this, and just leads to players chasing patch notes.

Balance patches in dota happen infrequently, about once every 6 months. And players aren't just chasing patch notes for most of the time.

Back when LoL was new[er], you could see a player bring out a 'pocket pick' in a tournament, something that no one really played and bring it to prominence. I think a contributing factor for why this doesn't seem to happen much now is that the competitive playerbase is much larger than SSB (and exponentially larger than it's own first seasons) which means there are enough really good players/analysts that everything good gets discovered pretty quickly.

Mewtwo has always been low on the tier list and never has been an actual threat in high level play. Peach and Ice Climbers are spot on however.

He's always been low tier, but his jump in popularity was caused by m2k

Actually I'd say it was taj's video "shadowclaw" that inspired mewtwo players most

Isn't shuffling in the ranks a sign of balance? Lets say the game is unbalanced such that Mario wins 100% of the time, and Luigi wins against everyone except Mario. Then I would expect the ranking to list Mario as #1 and Luigi as #2. They would never change positions because there is no question about if Luigi should rank higher than Mario or lower than some other character.

Yes - exactly. It's also a sign that the game has enough depth that not all strategies are known immediately. An unbalanced game where everyone knew A was better than B and that never changed would be a dull PvP game.

This is an interesting article, and I agree that balance isn't always as important as people think, but I don't think is well thought through in terms of game design.

Normally one would expect the rankings to be more or less constant without any balancing, this is exactly the point of the article.

The shuffling indicates that new tactics/play styles are found and widely adopted (as well as preferences are shifting) over time. With rebalancing, the shuffling should be more or less random (or at least you would see a higher "volatility"). Without rebalancing most characters which were judged as strong stay strong but players perception for some characters changes with tactics etc.. It would be interesting to not just see the overall standings but some kind of "consensus" rating (which characters are rated similar and for which characters ratings are mixed).

By the way, your point also shows that SSBM has an extensive gameplay and is (if intended or not) well designed for competitive play - otherwise ratings should be more stable.

That's assumes perfect information and perfect play. As new strats and counters are discovered the relative power of characters shifts over time.

Balance doesn't have to do with changes in perceptions of character strength. A game is usually said to be balanced if there is a large selection of characters that are considered viable for tournament play.

I think this distinction is important. Balance is about the diversity of choices players can make.

In nature, there are balancing mechanisms, but there is no balance. If one organism learns how to overwhelm another, it often spells the extinction of the weaker organism.

In games, however, if one character is unviable, then the game is said to be unbalanced, which naturally leads to discontent with the portion of the player base that likes that character. Balance is a battle against the natural entropy that generates tier lists or food chains, because it is a human preference, not a trend or a law of nature.

Because game staff have limited time and ability, more balanced games reduce and standardize options to make them easier to manage.

Smash is balanced in that win rates are similar enough to allow some mobility but not enough that the developers eliminated many of the later-discovered capabilities.

It would be wonderful if more game designers took the basic premise to heart, which is that the "balance" is antithetic to "interesting". Much of what made early World of Warcraft worlds compelling was the lack of balance on character capabilities. And while minmaxers would find a combo that was hard to beat, often alternatives could be found without large scale nerfs and buffs. Smash brothers is a lot of fun in this regard, since my daughter regularly trounces me I can try different strategies over time and discover things about the character I'm playing that improve it against massive failure. That journey is much more interesting than whether or not Zelda is more powerful than Sheik.

> "balance" is antithetic to "interesting"

That's an unusual opinion, would you mind explaining more? Unbalanced games tend to, in my view, be less interesting, because imbalance removes choices from the game.

For example, if you changed the rules to Rock-Paper-Scissors so that paper no longer beats rock, that's not an interesting game anymore. Paper is now clearly the worst choice, since it has no chance of winning, and Rock is now clearly the best choice, since it will draw in the worst case.

Put another way: There's nothing about a balanced game that keeps you from going on the journey that you feel is interesting. But with an balanced game, that journey is mandatory; with an imbalanced game, it's superfluous. You're playing strictly sub-optimally, which is a fine choice, but it's hard for me to see how it's more interesting.

   >  would you mind explaining more? 
Sure, we're using a slightly different meaning of balance I suspect. In the case of Smash Brothers, and World of Warcraft, the 'actors' each have different capabilities, some are offensive, some are defensive. In both of these cases the abilities can be "enhanced" by in game power ups.

Thus if you are playing actor 'A', and I am playing actor 'B', we state the game 'balanced' if every offensive action that 'A' has, has an equivalent defensive action on 'B's part, and vice versa. If an actor A has offensive capabilities that can overpower every other actors's defensive capability, then that actor is referred to as being 'over powered'.

What the original article discusses, and I certainly resonate with, is that there is a third balancing factor which is the environment and sometimes more subtle properties of an actor which are not specifically 'offense' or 'defense' related.

So to re contextualize that in terms of the argument you put forward, rock-paper-scissors is balanced at the actor level and the environment is irrelvant, so it plays the same way in all environments and is boring. If you add the environment, say underwater paper becomes mushy and can't be cut by scissors, or in volcanic environments paper catches on fire and can't wrap rocks, Etc, you create a more interesting game. One in which a strategy that works well in one environment, fails in another environment.

I realize that is a bit contrived, I was trying to stay with your use of r-p-s as the analogy which is imperfect to the task.

The short version is that widening the problem space from which you have to create a winning strategy makes it more interesting to me. That is done by spreading the notion of 'balance' beyond just matching actor skills to include effects from the environment as well.

I don't think that's what 'balanced' means. I would say a 1v1 competitive game is 'balanced' if for any pair of actors A and B, a top player piloting A wins a substantial proportion of games against a top player piloting B, and the sum of all matchup advantages and disadvantages for any character isn't very big.

So for example this is a matchup chart for a really balanced game: http://wiki.mizuumi.net/w/Chaos_Code/Tiers

And this is a matchup chart for a really not-balanced game: http://static.squarespace.com/static/50f14d35e4b0d70ab5fc4f2...

For instance, in StarCraft, it's reasonable to say that the races are balanced even if Zerg and Protoss have no analogues to the Terran ability Scanner Sweep.

This isn't a very useful post for me to make though; it looks like you are already on the right track and you meant something like "homogeneity" when you said "balance" initially.

> Thus if you are playing actor 'A', and I am playing actor 'B', we state the game 'balanced' if every offensive action that 'A' has, has an equivalent defensive action on 'B's part, and vice versa.

That's a very different definition of "balance" than what I have ever heard used in the context of competitive video games.

>if you are playing actor 'A', and I am playing actor 'B', we state the game 'balanced' if every offensive action that 'A' has, has an equivalent defensive action on 'B's part, and vice versa

But that's not what balance is at all. I'm going to go to some fighting games here, because I really like them and it's an easy way for me to contextualize balance. I apologize if I'm referencing a game you're not familiar with, but I'll try to be clear.

Guilty Gear (and its various sequels; right now I'm thinking of Guilty Gear XX Reload ^ Core, but that's super long to type) is generally considered to be a fairly balanced game, but the cast of characters is incredibly diverse. Venom can place pool balls on the screen in various formations, and if he hits them with any attack, then they bounce around and hit the opponent. Zappa can summon random creatures to give him access to new attacks (seeded by the clock, which skilled players can use to their advantage). Eddie has a secondary effect where he does one attack when you press a button, and a second attack when you let go of the button. Chipp has teleports and a triple jump that lets him move around the stage quickly.

You can't say that each character in Guilty Gear has an equivalent defensive action for every tool that every other character has, because there are just so many characters and so many different tools. Instead, each character has a generalized set of defensive options: a double jump and air dash for mobility, an attack that has upper body invincibility (and so can be used as a defensive move against air attacks), an attack from blockstun that has brief invincibility but costs a small amount of meter, and a rechargeable 'burst' that can break out of an opponent's combo. So now, even though every character has a myriad array of ways to attack you and there's no way to say "My burst is equal to Venom's pool balls, my dead-angle attack is equal to Zappa's dog, my anti-air is equal to Chipp's triple jump", the game is still overall balanced.

I would say that your example of R-P-S with stages is still unbalanced; in underwater environments, there's no situation where you don't want to choose rock. In volcanic environments, there's no situation where you don't want to choose rock. The addition of the stage has removed all the strategy from the game.

> The short version is that widening the problem space from which you have to create a winning strategy makes it more interesting to me.

This part, I absolutely agree with; I feel like you just took it in sort of a weird direction. You don't want to give everybody an equivilent set of tools, because that doesn't widen the problem space at all (because the characters are all equal, so the choice doesn't matter). And adding in effects from the environment is a way to widen the problem space, but certainly not the only one; you can go the Guilty Gear route and make sure that the system itself gives characters some good ways to get out of trouble, and then give each character an incredibly diverse set of offensive options and the problem space is sufficiently widened that way.

   > This part, I absolutely agree with; I feel like you 
   > just took it in sort of a weird direction.
Fair enough. We all read the article that is posted at the top right? A long discussion about Super Smash Brothers and how all of its characters were ranked by players, and how the rank of the characters changed over a long period of time as players figured out how to play them and interact with the environment? The author of that piece used that definition of unbalanced. I just happened to like it, or resonate with it as I wrote, because in my experience playing World of Warcraft for years and years. Changes that the developers made in the character abilities, primarily it seemed to address player vs player perceptions of "balance" (which was the term the WoW developers used), made all of the characters nearly uniform in their effective capabilities. So when the WoW developers said "the character classes/races/roles are more balanced in this patch" the experience was that the game was "less interesting" to me. There was an interesting metric for that which was a characters "rotation" which was code for the sequence of commands the character would use in battle, which the more "balanced" the game became, the more uniform/boring that sequence became[1].

That said, it sounds like Guilty Gear is a lot of fun. And yes, that sort of global diversification is something I really like in a game and it keeps it interesting to me. And to your point having diverse capabilities that do not map 1:1 on the characters is part of the charm. And that is part of the charm of Super Smash Brothers which started this conversation. So after all this wonderful discussion I think we just figured out we agree with each other :-)

[1] Jokes about Paladin's having a single 'i win' key they just pounded again and again, or simplifying the user interface to three buttons, 'fight', 'farm', and 'cyberz'

Right; I think part of the confusion is that the author talks a lot about 'balance' in Smash but never actually defines what he means by it.

I got the impression from the article that when he talks about "balance", he means "constant and ongoing change to reduce options which players feel are overpowered, and enhance options which players feel are underpowered". He talks about Smash being "unbalanced", and then immediately explains that it's a console game which has never been patched. He then follows up by contrasting it with LoL, and the constant state of patching that LoL exists in. Treating "balance" as a verb, rather than an adjective. That's a very different interpretation of the concept than what I'm used to thinking, and so I think you're right that we ended up talking past each other a bit and ended up at the same place anyways.

Guilty Gear is a lot of fun, and if you're interested in checking it out, you're in luck! A brand new game in the series is coming out in just a few weeks (Guilty Gear Xrd, pronounced "Ecksard"), for ps3/ps4. A bunch of people are really looking forward to it and it seems like it'll be a lot of fun. It's a very different style of game from Smash, but if you like one, you may well like the other.

If I could comment to the author directly. Look into the Tier lists for Street Fighter, and Namely Street Fighter Turbo II. Which is also completely unpatched, but still has an actively changing tier list despite being over 20 years old.

Author here! Can you point me to a set of tier lists for Street Fighter? I actually looked very briefly but couldn't find anything. It's possible to find a single tier list but what makes the Smash Bros post work so well is that it's 12 lists from the same source over 10 years.

I've found a few good tier lists for SF2 and SF4, but nothing consistent enough to really show their evolution over time.

The evolution over time will require a little bit of data mining. I'm only slightly attached to the fighting community and haven't actively been playing for 20 years.

I don't know a good resource where this information will be readily available from seeing at the early 90's were kinda ancient history for the web.

Dave Sirlin had a recent(ish) post about balance in fighting games here: http://www.sirlin.net/articles/game-balance-and-yomi

He mentions a few different Street Fighters.

Even regional tier lists for Turbo can be really interesting. In the states, everybody thought T Hawk was a trash character, completely low tier. In Japan, he was one of the top tier grapplers; eventually, somebody from Japan came out to the US for a tournament, picked T Hawk, and started doing stuff that folks in the US had just straight up never seen before.

After a bit of thought, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (and 2, honestly) would also be interesting to look at. 2 is essentially a booked game, I don't think anybody feels like new stuff is going to be discovered there, but it was actively played for years and years, so examining changing tier lists would be pretty interesting. 3 is still played and the metagame has gone through some pretty significant shifts (from phoenix teams to morridoom to zero may cry), but I can basically guarantee that it's not going to be patched any time soon because of the way rights to the characters are tangled up, so any metagame shifts that happen are entirely due to the players discovering new tech. And there's definitely still a lot of new tech to be discovered in MvC3.

As a 1v1 fighting game with a comparable roster of character genres, Street Fighter seems like a better analogue to Smash Brothers than League of Legends is. And like you said, Street Fighter II remains unpatched... versus the regular patching of the Street Fighter IV series. The comparison seems perfect.

Street Fighter IV started the series with a ridiculously overpowered Sagat, who was then arguably overnerfed in Super Street Fighter IV. New characters introduced in Super Street Fighter IV AE, Yun and Yang, were overpowered to the point of breaking the game.

I'm pretty glad that Capcom has, however reluctantly and at whatever expense, continued to balance the characters with each release. The series would have been pretty damn bland if anyone could win by spamming Sagat's fireballs since 2008. It's given me the opportunity to experiment with relatively underpowered characters, which is WAY more fun -- and since they're not (completely) helpless against more powerful characters, I've been able to come up with game-winning tactics that baffle friends who rely on the usual shotos like Ryu/Ken/etc/etc.

I've never gotten into Smash Brothers, but I'd love to hear about the Ice Climbers. I've tried playing them at parties and got absolutely destroyed. Why are they such a powerful character?

- - - - -

Edit - To answer my own question about the Ice Climbers:

"The Ice Climbers aren't very good at using their standard arsenal of attacks for continuous hits, normally speaking. With weak throws, small hammers, and slow movement in general (slow falling, air, and dash speed), the Ice Climbers can usually only manage one or two good hits in close before they need to resort to Ice Shots or Blizzard again. With both Climbers present, KOing generally isn't too much of a problem, although their Smashes are generally better at racking up the damage than at KOing. With all this in mind, they wouldn't seem like the best character choice, if it weren't for the following...

Chaingrabbing and Desynching

Many would consider the Ice Climbers to be "the King and Queen of all Chain Grabs" due to the fact that their two-in-one property allows a variety of chain-grab options. For example, the lead Ice Climber can grab onto one opponent and use the forward throw. In the middle of the throw animation, the player can gain control of the CPU Climber, commanding him/her into performing a forward-air spike, or grabbing again with the CPU Climber while once again bringing the original, player-controlled Climber in for a new grab. Such strings create long and extremely damaging chain grabs capable of being performed at nearly any percent, on nearly any stage. A down side is that the ice climbers don't have a very good grab range and because of how much they slide it's almost impossible to grab an opponent when they hit your shield unless you powershield his or her attack.

For further two-in-one hi jinks, it is even possible to "desync" the CPU partner by confusing it with erratic movement (such as dash-dancing), putting the player in control of both Climbers for as long as they are capable of maintaining it. Once the partner is desynced, the player can have it perform any move while the main Climber is in the middle of one, providing for all sorts of possible attack strategies that can be exceedingly difficult for opponents to escape from (alternating Blizzard, alternating Ice Shot). While desynced, the partner Climber has restrained movement within an invisible box around the main Climber; should he/she be separated or removed from this box, the CPU will take over again. This invisible box makes it so that if you desync yourself from the AI so that it charges a smash attack and you start walking or running away, the AI will slide in your direction while charging the smash. A unique thing that you can do when desynced is that if you desync the AI to charge a smash attack, your belay will cancel the AI's charging sequence and teleport it into the belaying sequence.

It should be obvious that such techniques are almost impossible to perform in combat, regardless of the player's skill, due to the constant string of precise commands required for the Climbers to move/attack as intended. This level of obscene difficulty is what has prevented any seemingly-unfair IC techniques (outside of wobbling in Melee) from seeing competitive bans, especially given that very few professional players maintain or even use them at tournaments. This lack of appearance has made their tier ranking, and whether or not it should be higher, questionable for the time being. Nevertheless, these techniques are the backbone of playing a good pair of Ice Climber; without them, they aren't particularly great, so it's essential for players who plan on using the Ice Climbers to master them as they are not worthy of their tier placement without these."


The past couple EVO tournaments for Street Fighter (which is, for people who don't follow the FGC, the largest tournament in the US for fighting games) have been won by some pretty unexpected characters, which I like; nobody really considered Gen to be a powerhouse until Xian pulled it out, and I'm pretty sure Rose was thought to be solidly low tier until Louffy demonstrated that she could make really effective use of her normals (and also lucked into some people who didn't understand the Rose matchup and e.g. kept on spamming Sagat's fireballs when that's a pretty terrible thing to do against Rose).

I feel like there are a lot of characters in SF who are pretty viable, and some of them just require a lot more work than others. It's pretty well understood how to play a shoto like Ryu or Ken, but the downside is that when you pick them, everybody knows what to expect from you. If you can put some solid work into a low tier character, you can often pull off some really unexpected stuff and occasionally shift the tier lists.

Another good example of this was Canada Cup 2013, 5v5; NE Asia's Dakou picked Dee Jay (a decidedly low tier version of Guile) and ended up destroying a bunch of people who really expected to win. The commentary on this set is a lot of fun just because you can tell the announcers are so surprised: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcMwzw6EbMg

Make sure to watch this awesome documentary about SSBM: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLoUHkRwnRH-KTCH3tJ9Wv... (Beware, it's 4 hours long in total, hehe)

I wanted to like this, but it's 99% fluff and very weak to watch, even outright boring.

Maybe it's because i simply don't know the game, but right from the bat they expect the watcher to know the best players, and how the game works. Just throwing out names and techniques without explaining anything, while describing the completely typical 90s/00s mobile gaming nerd scene, which is identical to lan parties, demoscene parties, CCC clubs and what have you.

Secondly they show plenty of game footage, but it's like they made sure that it's a meaningless jumble by doing jumpcuts in amounts, frequency and rapidity that would make modern hollywood movies envious; and also exclusively using footage that's visually flawed in being either: out-of-focus, thumbnail resolution, sub-10 fps, shaky-cam, composed of fist-sized compression artifacts, overexposed or (something common to almost ALL the clips) presented entirely without comment or explanation.

Mind, so far i've seen 1 and a half videos of theirs and peeked into the third to see if it gets any better, but it really looks like this documentary doesn't say anything about the game, and is entirely a documentary about the social and competitive scene and the people in it.

Three minutes in to the first video: "This is about the seven greatest players who, in their time, ruled the world".

So yeah, it seems like it's about the players and the community.

edit: The first video has so far gone over wave dashing and l-canceling, so it seems like it actually goes over some mechanical details of the game as well. I'm not really sure what you were expecting?

Two things: Directly before that sentence the voice says "This is about a game that was never designed to be played competitively." However it's really not been about the game at all.

Secondly, i was directly addressing OP's description of this series as "this awesome documentary about SSBM", which is (not intentionally, but nevertheless) far from what the documentary is actually about.

> The first video has so far gone over wave dashing and l-canceling

It mentioned them. I still have no idea what wave dashing is at all, since they never explain it beyond "you press a lot of keys really quickly, like in starcraft". And l-canceling has a comparison, but it's shown extremely quickly, with little explanation fo what is being shown, and the meaning of the "l" is never explained. Heck, the only reason i know what canceling means is that i played godhand.

> what you were expecting?

Interesting stuff about the gameplay itself, the techniques used. What's the normal gameplay, how does competitive differ, what breakthroughs have been made, how and why do competitive techniques work. I really wasn't expecting "yes this guy drove like a thousand miles to play a game and win 200$" to be drawn out over many minutes. Not to discount the achievement, but i've heard tens of such stories before.

Edit: Also gameplay footage which has more meaning than any of the trailers to the new transformers movies.

I thought the explanation of wave dashing was pretty clear: you jump, and then immediately cancel that jump into a downwards dodge; this makes you slide across the floor. The video explains that in basically those words, and pretty clearly shows that you can wave dash faster than you can run, which gives you greater mobility.

L-canceling was pretty clearly shown to be a technique that cancels the recovery of the move; this is shown by not only the side-by-side comparison, but also the players who literally say "He knew about l-cancelling before us, so he was able to do moves, like, you know, l-cancel his moves to stop the delay on moves before us". They don't explain why it's called "l-cancelling", but that's not going to add more information to the explanation of the utility. It's a documentary, not a tutorial.

> pretty clearly shows that you can wave dash faster than you can run, which gives you greater mobility.

If they did show that then they showed it without even pointing it out. I do remember them saying something about a jump and a slide, but that part was very fast, and even after looking at that bit again i can't see where they show the comparison to normal running.

> this is shown by not only the side-by-side comparison

Again, only shown for an extremely short time. By the time i figure out which one was showing the L-cancel they were done with it already.

> They don't explain why it's called "l-cancelling", but that's not going to add more information to the explanation of the utility.

You think that. I do not.

> It's a documentary, not a tutorial.

There can also be a middle ground. This documentary utterly aims at one extreme though.


More importantly note that these two things, and the explanation of the percentage, are the only times they actually bother to explain anything about the game in the first two episodes.

12 minutes into the second episode when they're talking about Ken vs. Chillindude, and Chillindude starts talking about his strategic decisions: "The [strategy] is simply this: you throw them upwards, and then hit them with an up-air."

If you don't like it, that's fine; your complaints about gameplay footage are all completely valid. But if you feel like they're not giving you information about the game, I'm not really sure how much attention you're paying to what they're saying.

edit: especially because some thing you're explicitly saying you want (e.g. what breakthroughs are made) are given (l-cancelling and wave dashing, for example) and then you just totally discount them because I guess you're looking for frame by frame analysis in a documentary.

edit 2: 22 minutes into the second episode they go over Directional Influence. That's more systems information for you and another example of a technical breakthrough that changed competitive play. If you don't like the videos that's fine, but you should probably watch a video fully before you make complaints that are provably false.

> you just totally discount

Sorry if it appears like that. I didn't express myself clearly enough.

I wasn't discounting those, but instead expected more explanations of the basics. Without understanding of the basic movements and abilities of a character (the only nod towards that is the breathless "you can control every movement of your entire body"), no meaningful understanding of the impact of the special techniques is possible. (Note how i can't even tell the difference between the speed of a wave dash and normal running because they never once showed normal running in isolation.)

Note specificially me saying in the bit you refer to:

    >> what you were expecting?
    > What's the normal gameplay,
    > how does competitive differ
They could've easily done that with a short 10 minute segment where they only go over the basics, maybe even make it optional. Or heck, a link to a tutorial they deem useful. Or at the very minimum a warning going "if you don't already know the game, nothing we talk about will make any sense".

In contrast to the other response to this, I loved this documentary, and watched it in two sittings straight. I grew up playing this game, though, and watching it was a fond reminder of a culture that I always felt surrounded by. It's more nostalgic than hard-hitting, so you might not get as much out of it if you don't have any ties to melee or people who love it.

"I'd love to play League of Legends low tier only. Can you imagine a tournament where the 40 most used champions are all off limits? It'd be so fun!"

Dota 2 has a similar mode[1] where you can't choose from your 40 most played heroes, although this is based on what heroes you've played previously, not the heroes that are most played globally.

[1] http://dota2.gamepedia.com/Game_modes#Least_Played

Dota does it correctly, if you cut off the top 40, tou would see a new meta game develop around the available champions. The tier list would not have the same ordering as the bottom remaining champions, as some of them are better suited to combat the removed 'meta' champs, and visa-versa.

I've been wondering if a MOBA could use a balancing algorithm, and tweak a pre-configured variable character stat if a champion becomes too popular, too high win ratio, or too weak.

Even more interesting IMO would be a stock market, where players can spend in game (or real) currency to manipulate the power level of their favorite champion. Over time, people will bid against overpowered champions and their numbers will get tweaked downwards. You might see certain champions that people consistently choose to invest in (to buff), but it will be an honest measure of the popularity of the champion and can be combated if enough of the player base hates it.

Your stock market idea is interesting, however it wouldn't work well at all and would destroy the entire pro scene. If you check http://dotabuff.com/heroes/played you'll see the list of most played heroes and their win rates. The heroes who most likely need buffs will be at the bottom of that list. In a stock market simulation you would have people bidding on their favorite (popular) hero or against their most hated (popular) hero. Heroes like Invoker who have a 40% pub win rate are actually balanced for pro players with a 50% win rate. Given the popularity of invoker and the low win rate, we could expect a good amount of buffs causing the pro-metagame to shift to invoker being #1 pick.

Basically, balancing is hard.

What if every hero got nerfed a little on a regular basis, and people voted to keep their favorites from being nerfed? Then apply some buffing to the least-voted heroes...

I agree with the conclusion of the article, going for a fun game rather than trying to balance it perfectly is the best way to go. When games set out from the start to be competitive, balanced, and cater to the professional's feedback it takes away that element of discovery and letting the game grow organically. If something is obviously broken then A game in recent history that did this was StarCraft 2. StarCraft 1 became a huge competitive game well after the last balance patch came for it. This allowed the players and the community to grow through strategy and map making. In StarCraft 2 once something powerful (and fun) was discovered, players went the route of complaining online so the developers would change it. For myself and many others, this took away a lot of the fun and hurt the longevity of the game. Strategies/races/units falling out of favor did not happen naturally, a patch directly caused it. In StarCraft 1 you could not complain and expect a patch to save you, and you had to come up with something to deal with it.

To be fair, in SC1, maps played a HUGE role in balance. On Blue Storm, for example, Zergs used to have a multiple percentage point advantage over Terrans, but the map makers fixed that by adding a little space behind the minerals on the natural, making it a little bit easier to defend against Muta harass and thereby curbing the advantage.

One of the big issues that sets Smash Bros. apart from other fighting games like Street Fighter or Tekken is the attitude of the developers. Sakurai and team don't really consider their game a fighting game and cater to the casual crowd with smash bros. This is in stark contrast to Capcom who tries to make Street Fighter the competitive fighting game. This is changing somewhat with the Wii U invitational and actually issuing balance patches this time around for smash 4 but it will be a long time before another Smash is a competitive hit like Melee was, Sakurai has even said that melee was too technical and was a mistake.

It's worth noting that the casual focus in Brawl was responsible for the "tripping" mechanic: during battle, your character would trip completely at random. There was no way to disable it.

Ironically, casual players hated it.

Random bonuses (items) are fun. Random penalties (tripping) are not.

What we are seeing here is a demonstration of real world fog of war and the evolution of combat, bear with me on a real world application.

In the beginning of a fight / battle / war where both competitors have never seen one another there will be tendencies to favor an approach (character) based on visual appeal or familiarity. This is the selection of a character familiar to the player, look at Mario, Zelda, Luigi and their degradation over time; new users select their favorites but realize as they get better that these are not the best.

Over time, the players / strategists come up with new strategies to handle the predominantly selected players. As new characters are chosen, because the losing character demonstrates a propensity for losing, new strategies are adopted by the new loser.

The rise of certain characters within the game demonstrate users experimenting with them and their adopted strategies working against entrenched strategies.

Things also to consider, as less new players discover the game, the residual data becomes more experienced player-centric as they are the remaining still playing the game.

Ness is a character that may have some secret ability that no one knows about and may be helpful in the future.

For anyone who's into low-tier heroes, here's an inspirational game & watch: http://youtu.be/-IsVX-3ZsFU

Maybe G&W will never be high tier but it's so fun to watch people push the limits of known-to-be-bad characters out of love

To be nit-picky for a moment, it's profoundly irritating when footnotes in an article are not presented as links.

A bit surprised to see the analysis was of Super Smash Bros Melee and not Brawl. Not quite as much data on it (7 years vs 12)...

For what it's worth, I actually wore out 3 Wiis playing smash bros for probably thousands of hours.

Also, great marketing effort releasing this the day before the new one releases.

Brawl has much less of a storied competitive scene, and thus there's inherently less metagame development. Fox is considered the best character in Melee, but the margin that Meta Knight dominates Brawl by is far, far larger. Nowadays, competitive Brawl is pretty much dead, Melee still has large tournaments.

I think the Melee tier story is far more interesting than the Brawl one since there's far less motivation to develop the lower tiers in Brawl. In Melee there's still some development in lower tiers like Game & Watch and Yoshi that could see them climb the ranks.

Unsure what you mean: There is power ranking of brawl at the bottom from which you can extrapolate some of the same conclusions he talks about wrt melee.

? You've got that backwards, Melee came out 5 years before Brawl.

I think maybe the takeaway here is that you can't always tell the difference between a slightly unbalanced and a perfectly balanced game right away. You can probably spot extreme imbalances immediately, I'd guess.

But if this game had been patched monthly, Jigglypuff or Ice Climbers might have been buffed drastically or had their mechanics changed early on, which would have been a shame.

A proposal: when a game has been thoroughly played, tested, and thought through, and the designers are nearly certain that a desirable state of balance has been reached, then restrain yourself to no more than one (maybe two) balance tune-ups in a year. Only patch imbalances so glaring that they are on the scale of bugs or exploits. Let things play out a bit.

This is a fantastic article that I'll link to the next time people complain about "balance" as a general construct to express that their discontent at losing in some context. There have been other well thought out observations similar to this about other classics, including Final Fantasy Tactics: http://kotaku.com/5973196/why-everybody-loves-final-fantasy-...

In the case of Tactics, the game continues to be fun even after 100 hours of play in part because player is _rewarded_ for their effort by their units becoming out of balance in the late end game.

While I agree with his point, I don't think he successfully demonstrates it, let alone proves it. There's very probably an Extra Credits video that does it better; I'd have to look, though, and I can't do that at work.

He's neglecting that SSBM is an offline-only game, so imbalances take MUCH longer to manifest. When people can easily play games against serious competitors across the globe at any time of day, new strategies spread extremely quickly.

This is an argument against regular balance patches, not against trying to balance things in the first place. I don't think it's a good idea to conflate the two.

Does the game track which characters tend to win and lose the most? I wonder if Nintendo could aggregate this and generate their own rankings.

I'm pretty sure that all Smash Bros versions going back to N64 keep track of a fairly comprehensive array of stats. I doubt that the games phone home with that info, though.

The 3DS version keeps track of those statistics for online play at least. Nintendo ostensibly uses this information to balance the game further in patches:


_Being on the developer's side, Sakurai is able to view online player statistics for the game, and one particular statistic was brought up. "For Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the individual character win ratios lined up nicely in a staircase format, but [for Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS] one fighter has a significantly low ratio." Sakurai wrote. "It's Little Mac."_

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