I recently had an opportunity to play Street Fighter X Tekken, the next big fighting game from Capcom. There was one problem with this opportunity: I stink at fighting games.
The game was running on eight TVs and consoles in a hotel in Miami, the centerpiece of a Capcom showcase for the company's upcoming games.
If I played for one hour, I hoped, maybe I could improve and understand the game. Maybe I could take you, who is probably better at fighting games than I am, along for the ride.
So I played the game for 60 minutes, and sort of live-blogged it. "Sort of", because I wasn't allowed by Capcom to live-blog it live. Today, I can show you what happened one wonderful afternoon last week:
(Note, I typed the following live-blog as I played, hammering on the keys in between hammering away at the game. I've cleaned up some of the spelling but otherwise left it intact, so you can experience my raw impressions/emotions/humiliations. One thing to add, in case it's not clear: Street Fighter X Tekken is a tag game, which means each player brings two fighters into battle and can switch back and forth between them until either character's health bar is depleted.)
4:10 pm I'm sitting down with game. PS3 version. Street Fighter IV arcade fightstick, tournament edition. There's a tiger called King highlighted on the character select screen. Never seen him in Street Fighter. I guess he's from Tekken.
4:11 I decide to start with Ryu. We'll see if I can throw a fireball.
4:12 It's Ryu and Kazuya vs. Kazuya and Ken. Ryu is speaking in Japanese. We're on the Dino Crisis stage. Ryu vs. Ken. I can do this!
4:13 Fireball thrown on the first try. There's hope for me yet.
4:14 Ah, no wonder no one was sitting at this station. It's for multiplayer. No one is controlling the other side. Trying to figure out how to tag in [my other character] but time ran out in round 1. Got it. Held both medium buttons and switched in.
4:15 I'm controlling Kazuya.Tried some combos. The round timed out.
Post-match, my guys jaw at each other. I don't follow all of it. Kazyua say to Ken... "This is the Masters family? Not worthy of comparison to the Mishima."
4:16 Now it'll be that tiger guy King and Kazuya against my Chun-Li and, I guess I picked Kazuya again? Chun-Li starts talking trash while stretching. Leg pointed to the sky.
4:17 Just had to pull the move list for Chun Li for reference. [Note: The controls for some of the characters' moves were listed on laminated cards stacked near my fight stick.] Looking around to see if anyone notices.
4:19 Things have gone south. Somehow this station has connected to another and whoever is playing on the other end just thrashed me. This stinks.
4:21 Have run for help. Had to ask where the start button was on my stick.
4:28 Things have gotten bad. Figured out how to match-make against a nearby station. That was good. Took Ken and the tiger guy — who I've figured out is really a jaguar guy — King, into battle against a PR person who asked me to go easy on her. That wasn't going to be an issue. Did okay, I guess, building my super meter, but had no idea how to do a special attack. We called a guy named Leo over, who had me mash three kick buttons while pulling the stick to the side. ... Oh we did this for Ken, so I needed to circle the stick. Hurricane kick? I did the move, but I was so far away. No contact. Another person took over and creamed me. Let's try again.
4:30 Decided I needed to control characters who have easy moves. But they all look tough to me. So I'm going with Nina and Bob. Hope they're not too tough to use. We're against Guile and Abel. Computer-controlled. Idling. The opponents are punching bags for now.
4:32 I think I've mastered Nina's Skull Splitter. Zigzag: left down right, left, and punch. Crap. Someone's joining. We'll be fighting in the wrecked Capcom office stage. Ken and the jaguar are enemy.
4:37 Wow. I won! Used Nina in the beginning. Couldn't do my Skull Splitter.
4:40 Now it's Bob and Nina against Ken and Nina. I think I'm Bob and Nina. Was making progress against Nina, who knocked my Nina out, but then Ken swapped in and crushed me. This is not going well. Will no one here have mercy?
4:41 Looking around.. many people have left the eight Street Fighter X Tekken stations here. Perhaps I can play against... no one? Then I can learn!
4:42 I'm going to try Nina and Ryu. We're up against Ken and Ryu. [computer-controlled]. I just obsessively did the Skull Spltter 10 times. And a person is joining my game. Uh-oh. Muscle memory, save me!
4:47 Nope. Got the Skull Splitter in a few times, but lost. 2-0.
4:49 Sticking with these characters. Here we go again.
4:52 Well.. I won one round. Somehow got Nina to do some sort of ultra combo. She blew a kiss and then... I don't know what happened. It was flashy. It took down half of Abel's health bar. Lost in round three in a Ken vs. Ken.
4:54 Going with Nina and King. No practice. Going into real match. Not against the PR guy I've been playing. Worried. Up against Kazuya and King.
4:46 My goodness. I think I won the first round. But for half of the round I thought I was controlling the other King.
4:59 What in the world? Just won. Post-match trash talk from Nina to King: "If you're going to hire me let's see what you can do"... and then something about devil power not beating jaguars.
5:00 Thought I was doing really well, then realized I'm playing a new match against non-functioning AI. Discovered an unlisted Nina move! Fierce kick, fierce punch at same time to swing arm out like a windmill or something. Cool. And now I'm being match-made against Kazuya and Ken.
5:02 OK. This person sucks to fight. Mauled me with Ken. But, somehow I obliterated their Kazuya. They clearly didn't know how to use him. And then they came back with Ken in round three and just about perfected me. Damn.
5:05 Let's try Marduk and Bob! Why not? These guys are burly. No time to practice. Here comes a new challenger. Going up against King and Kazuya.
5:07 Annihilated in round one.
5:08 Slightly more competitive in round 2. Time for one more match.
5:09 Going with Nina and Bob.
5:14 Yikes. Just got Nina slammed by King. And then got beat up in the last round. At least I got to fight in front of a dinosaur that wears boxing glovess!
• Loved discovering a move.
• Loved being able to see that a person was good with one character and bad at another; helped me think I was seeing weaknesses.
• Still can't block effectively and am incredibly confused about countering. But I do love how fluidly the game flows. I'm quite good at bailing an almost-beaten character out of the frame and having his teammate slide right in... right into the next offensive body slam the person I'm playing against was preparing for me.
*End of Liveblog*
After writing that liveblog, I sat down with Seth Killian, one of Capcom's fighting game gurus, and showed him what I'd done. (As a policy, I don't show my work in advance to the people I'm covering, but in this case, the copy wasn't going to change, so I broke my rule.) Killian and I have crossed paths several times over the last few years and have talked plenty about my struggles with fighting games. He knows that I'm not willing to commit the time needed for me to improve my skills. This was maybe as much time as I'd given a fighting game since the early 90s when I played Super Street Fighter II on my Super Nintendo. I was eager to show him the few epiphanies I'd had while playing.
He read that"takeaway" section and lit up. That joy of discovering an unlisted move, he told me, was a highlight of the old experience of playing Street Fighter in the arcades. That pleasure has been eliminated for modern gamers, who can pull move lists for new fighting games on the day they come out. I'd enjoyed a lost experience.
I told him how thrilling it was to sense that one of my opponents was struggling to use Kazuya. It was satisfying to recognize a weakness and exploit it. That was it, Killian said. That is one of the signature experiences of playing a fighting game. You can see the other person's emotions and thought process in the moves they're making, he remarked. You can see fear and worry. You can see confidence and detect subterfuge. I couldn't see much of that, but I could see something. I understood, just a little better, what hooks people on these games.
An hour of Street Fighter X Tekken didn't teach me a whole lot about the new game. I'd gleaned as much or more from a meeting with the game's lead producer. It did introduce me, however, to some of the wonderful experiences of competitive fighting games. I'll give this game another hour, if I can fit it in.