Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R, the 2012 update to a game originally released in 2002, is currently testing a patch on Steam (developed in part by a controversial figure in the fighting game community) that improves online play in a big way. This has led to a huge influx of players, completely shattering the game’s previous Steam records, and proving that if developers focus more on this area of their fighting games, they’ll be rewarded by a passionate player base.
There are, as of this writing, over 2,000 people playing Guilty Gear right now. When the patch dropped on October 28, that number peaked at over 2,300. The fighting game’s previous best was just 438, achieved all the way back when it first arrived on PC in May 2015. This influx of players is due to a behind-the-scenes adjustment to the code the game uses for online play.
As with many of the developer’s games, Arc System Works used what is known as delay-based netcode in Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R when the game first launched on Steam. I’ve written about the problems with delay-based netcode before, but in layman’s terms, it makes for an all-around poor, lag-filled online experience. Playing fighting games is about executing on strategies within just a few frames of gameplay. Adding the latency of online play to this process makes the entire ecosystem a nightmare compared to simply playing matches offline.
Rollback netcode, however, reduces the headaches associated with netplay, thanks to its ability to predict player inputs and correct errors on the fly.
“[Rollback netcode] allows the game to be played naturally, where most delayed-based games have players becoming accustomed to having to preemptively decide all their decisions,” fighting game community veteran Josh “NerdJosh” Jodoin told Kotaku via email. “It allows me to use my reactions more and gives me more time to recognize when I get a hit to confirm it. I can land all those tough combos I practiced offline for hours. As a tournament player, it really makes me feel like I’m learning the game for what it is.”
While he’s known for dabbling in dozens of fighting games, Jodoin has returned to playing Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R on Steam thanks to this patch. Jodoin and Guilty Gear newcomer Chris “MundyCindy” Princler both say the experience has been a pleasant one.
“It feels good so far,” Princler told Kotaku via direct message. “Significantly better than [Guilty Gear Xrd], with less delay and more consistency. I’m going to give the game an honest effort for a couple months.”
While netcode has always been important to fighting game players, the competitive scene’s concerns have increased with the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. Most major tournaments have been canceled, and those that still continue are relying on the poor online infrastructure that previously made offline play such a necessity. Street Fighter V champion Derek “iDom” Ruffin dropped out of an official online tournament in July due to the game’s crappy netcode, and players have only gotten louder in their demands that fighting games include a competent online infrastructure.
Fortunately, developers appear to be getting the picture. Arc System Works, for instance, plans to use rollback netcode in the upcoming Guilty Gear Strive after pushing back against arguments of its necessity for years. SNK has spent the last few years adding rollback netcode to classic titles like King of Fighters ’97 and Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Every time one of these games gets updated with a system that facilitates online play, they see spikes in player interest. If anything, the move is simply good for business, and I hope more fighting game developers are paying attention.
“The beautiful thing with rollback is as long as the community wants to play they can, especially with a hiatus of events right now,” Jodoin said. “This will be the next best thing to long sets with the homies at the game center.”