I did promise I’d have a whole rant prepared about characters. Well, here it is.
What it feels like a lot of other developers do is try to make all of their characters meet a certain standard of viability. So if Character A absolutely stomps the floor with Character B, they’ll make some attempt to even the scales. Sometimes they’ll nerf A, and sometimes they’ll buff B. During this process it’s possible to introduces a bug, an infinite, anything unintentional really, that throws that character out of sync with the rest of the cast. I would imagine these things often happen. You can theorycraft as much as you wish, but when you actually go in and make the changes anything can happen. Eventually this back-and-forth game reaches a semblance of equilibrium and you ship it. Or you run out of time during development and your game is unbalanced as hell; such is life.
Capcom releases a game, let’s say Street Fighter 4, in arcades, and gets a ton of feedback. They release an update for the game; update the roster, move properties, all that jazz. A real meaty patch. Finally if you’re, say, a Vega player, or an El Fuerte player, or maybe even a C. Viper player, you can hope. You can pray that Capcom has recognized the comically pathetic status of these characters and has made a few tweaks that will improve them. You’re not looking for top-tier powerhouses, you just anticipate your opponents watching El Fuerte run around like a psychopath during battle and laughing in fear.
Then Capcom asks to borrow your shirt and shits in it. Just shits all up in it. Balls it up, uses a clean scrap of sleeve to wipe their collective asshole and then hands it back to you. “Here’s your patch you retardedly hopeful motherfucker,” they say to you. They got sick of your positive outlook, your optimistic forum posts. When they saw your smug, ugly-ass face after you won against a Ryu one guy literally snapped his pencil in half.
This is because there are some characters the design team likes, and some it hates. And guess what? They hate your character. Hate your character. Not just because you play him/her/it, but that definitely helps because guess what they also hate you.
The point I am laboriously arriving at is that Capcom does not try to make its characters equal because Capcom does not want its characters to be equal. As a fighting game fan, one who never really got into other Capcom fighters, it seems very strange. Look, for example, at the tier lists for the past three Guilty Gear XX iterations. You may notice a surprisingly high degree of fluctuation between versions, even of characters no one thought redeemable (hello Zappa how are you doing down there). Do you know what this tells me? This tells me Arc Systems is trying.
Now look at the tier lists for Street Fighter 4’s lifecycle so far. A few people move up, a few people move down, but almost all remain in their designated tier zones. Finding a glass ceiling in fighting games is depressing, honestly. If you played a shitty character before (excluding Viper; I have a feeling her being that low was a real mistake), that character is still shitty. They had almost a year to change it, and they didn’t. There’s no way that’s an oversight.
Take my personal example. I really like Cammy. Cammy in SF4 is shit. I wouldn’t mind too much if A) there was hope that Capcom will elevate her in the future, or B) there were other characters I wanted to play. Unfortunately, the chances Capcom will improve her seem remarkably slim; none of her moves are safe, her command inputs have been re-complicated to Super Turbo levels (while others, like Sagat’s Tiger Knee, have been simplified), and the properties of those moves have been tuned way, way down. It took me a while to admit, but there are way too many problems to ignore; this was a blatant act of setting a character at the bottom of the barrel. Which is what Capcom does, and I suppose I can’t get too mad at it. What I can get mad at is the character designs. They’re shit, let’s not dance around it. Let us all just say it straight out, it’s bracing. They are shit. Chun-Li, Crimson Viper, Abel, Rufus, Seth – Seth! The guy looks like a gray Gumby extra – I could go on, but the truth is the old characters look worse than they ever have. The new characters just look bad. And bland, my God do some of them look bland. El Fuerte is a small wrestler with a Luche Libre mask on; I’d have thought we’d seen the cliche enough in the past that someone would add something to make him stand out. Oh, they did, a frying pan in his intro. Guess the team wanted to leave work early that day. In the end, none of these characters make me want to play them. At best I’m indifferent, and I really don’t want to be the ten-thousandth Ken or Ryu player.
I usually don’t pay much attention to tier lists, since I’ll never reach the level of competition where they come into play too heavily. I’ve always played Dizzy in GGXX, and she’s never been very good, but I really like the character and I like her playstyle. But when I’ve been playing a game for a week and I’m noticing crippling problems with a character (Hooligan Throw, in addition to requiring an EX bar to be worth anything, can’t grab ducking characters? Really?) something is seriously amiss. Well balanced? Maybe, but don’t tell Vega or he might suicide.
He’s been having problems at home.