I'm not going to pretend in this post that I'm anything more than a scrub in Soulcalibur; whether I was good at one time or another is irrelevant. This month, for the first time ever, I find myself in a leadership position in the community during the launch of a major revision to the Soulcalibur series... And of course, as with anything I do, its not without some drama.
But drama is not foreign to our community; in fact, it probably goes hand-in-hand. In addition to that, to outsiders it looks as if our community is "quick to ban". Now, Soulcalibur V is about to launch and we find ourselves already being forced to make decisions relevant to bans. So before I go into my decisions for SC5, I'm going to do my best to recall a history of banning within the Soulcalibur community.
I wasn't a tournament player during the first Soulcalibur game; it didn't strike my fancy. It wasn't until Soulcalibur II that I go interested in the tournament scene. Any scrub around in those days will immediately remember that Heihachi, Link, Spawn and Necrid were banned during the entirety of the game's lifespan. Assassin, Berserker, Lizardman, Seong Mi-Na and Sophitia were banned at times as well.
Why were these characters banned? Heihachi, Link and Spawn have an obvious answer: they were console exclusive. As console exclusives, not everyone had access to the characters to play them or practice against them. If players do not have even grounds to prepare against other players, it creates an unfair advantage. How can you expect to play against Heihachi when you've never seen the character before, because you have a GameCube?
Assassin, Berserker, Lizardman, Necrid, Seong Mi-Na and Sophitia however were a different story. Back in the days of SC2, the series still had arcade releases; the arcade was where balance testing as done. The game went through many balance patches before it's eventual release on consoles. However, the characters in question did not exist in the arcade versions! They were console exclusive and thusly went through zero play-testing.
WCMaxi, who was in charge of our community at the time, and an employee of Namco Arcade International decided to simply ban them altogether until it could be determined at a later date on whether or not they were tournament viable. Most of them were eventually unbanned later in the game's life cycle. However, Necrid remained banned because he was just too broke.
Lizardman's Reptile Rumble throw had a glitch which was also banned because it could turn into an infinite. And 2G, a completely game-altering glitch which allowed players to block when they should otherwise be unable to do so, was left unbanned because it consequently made the game more balanced... although a lot slower and boring to watch at high level.
Soulcalibur III... the black sheep of the series. The game did not have an arcade version before console release and we now know that the game went through no balance testing. Because of it, the disparity between the highest tier and the lowest tier of characters was larger than any other game in the series. In addition, a very severe glitch known as "Variable Cancel" (VC) threatened to break the game as we know it.
At this point in time, WCMaxi had moved to Japan and was unable to take charge; the leaders we did have were indecisive and slow to act. They tried to make everyone happy, and in turn, nobody was happy. Each region ran their own rules, on different versions of the game. On the east coast, I was the first to take the plunge and ban VC from all tournaments. Eventually Canada followed suit and over the course of the next two years, everyone else eventually fell in line.
Would VC have destroyed our community (anymore than it was already) if it wasn't banned? Probably not. When it comes down to it, it really didn't change the game as much as we expected it to, except with a few specific characters. But our community was in such shambles already that I decided to unban all guest/bonus characters and permit random creation characters into tournaments.
I mean, who cared anymore? On the east coast, our events became less about the game and more about the social atmosphere; which is probably why we have such a tight-knit community now. In hindsight, if the game had remained relevant, unbanning guest/bonus characters would have been a huge blow against balance and the competetive nature of the game. Certain characters like Lynette, Valeria and Strife were abusable to a fault.
Released during a poor time, Soulcalibur IV is probably the best game in the series thus far; but still not without it's faults. During the first few months, Darth Vader, Yoda, Angol Fear, Ashlotte, Kamikirimusi, Scheherezade, Shura and Yoda were banned from tournaments. Darth Vader and Yoda because they were console exclusive, and the remaining because they were guests.
The moment Darth Vader and Yoda became available as DLC on each console, we unbanned them from tournaments. The remaining 5 characters however were another story. They did not have their own moveset, they were just altered versions of existing characters. As an experiment, we unbanned them for a few tournaments on the east coast.
They were rebanned after a few short months. What we realised was that not only did hurt-boxes change on characters, but hit-boxes on weapons could be bigger. Eventually there became little point in a player using Amy, when they could use Scheherezade instead. Or Cervantes over Shura. With the broken hurt-boxes, we decided to end it.
What eventually became the major issue of the game had to do with two characters: Algol and Hilde. Neither character could be considered unbeatable; this was not a no-win scenario. But this issue became so significant that it was clear the majority of the community wanted something done about it.
In the history of SC4, Algol and/or Hilde won very few major tournaments. In fact, neither of them even made it to top 3 at EVO. However, there was a lingering fear. The risk vs. reward was so skewed that it would eventually make not playing these characters a grave blunder for anyone who wished to compete. The fear of "over-centralization" became prominent.
If we permitted them to remain legal, eventually everyone would be compelled to switch characters, or quit the game entirely. Unfortunately, this was about 4-5 months before EVO 2K9 and even though we could ban Algol and Hilde (which I did on the east coast), they would still be legal at EVO. At EVO, KDZ, who at the time was the #1 ranked player in America, had to fight through five Hilde players before eventually making it to grand finals.
So we banned Algol and Hilde. Not because they were "broke", but because we wanted to salvage what remained of the community. I knew we would not likely get players back because they heard Hilde was banned, but in the face of the launch of Street Fighter 4, I figured one less reason for people to quit would be greately beneficial... help stave off the exodus to greener pastures.
In fact, France didn't officially ban Hilde from their tournaments until last year; a good two years after everyone else. They have also never permitted Algol or any Star Wars characters into any of their tournaments; not for balance, but because they didn't fit "thematically" with the game.
So am I ban happy? I was the first to ban VC in SC3 and I was the first to ban Hilde in SC4... which I hope we all believe were right decisions. In addition to that, before SC4 was eventually patched, I believed that Critical Finishes needed to be banned or they would become the central focus of the game. However, at the same time, I was also the first to unban guest/bonus characters in both SC3 and SC4... which we now know were both mistakes.
So now, would you call it ironic, or kismet that we find ourselves in the same situation? Devil-Jin is a "create-a-soul" (CAS) movelist, he does not have it's own character slot, nor a default character design. As it stands CAS is banned because of tournament logistics; we don't want to be giving people time to create custom characters, nor force tournament organizers (TOs) to spend time before the tournament in order to make a set of Devil-Jin CAS. In addition, editing characters can lead to hurt-box issues and masking moves behind obscure clothing.
But what if we could get around these logistical issues when it comes specifically to Devil-Jin? It takes about 5 hours to unlock all characters in SC5; so Namco decided to make it easier for TOs and leave the save files unlocked. A TO could copy a save file with all unlocks and CAS from one console to another. So what if we made a default set of Devil-Jin CAS, distributed this save file freely and TOs could use this as their standard unlocked save file?
Sure, it can be said that people can edit the costume during the tournament in attempts to cheat; but any changes to the costume is clearly evident and will be caught on sight. Not to mention any changes to the characters height (which changes the hurt-boxes) wipes out the character design and it would take a significant amount of time for a cheater to recreate it; which they wont have at a tournament. Problem solved, right?
Well... no. While the lead director of SC5, Daishi Odashima insists that Devil-Jin is balanced for tournament play, the actual play testers for the upcoming Future Press strategy guide say otherwise. In fact, both the French and German communities state that Devil-Jin is completely overpowered and shouldn't be legal in tournaments. So what do we do?
We know from history that we really wont be able to tell a characters tournament viability until we permit them in tournaments. Why would someone learn the ins-and-outs of a banned character? We only knew Necrid was broke in SC2 because he was permitted in Japanese tournaments. We only knew how good Lynette was in SC3 because she was eventually playable. And we only knew to ban Hilde, Algol and Scheherezade because top players learned how to abuse them.
Many are advocates for a "wait and see" mentality. Ban Devil-Jin now, and only unban him if he is deemed balanced... but this doesn't work. We will never know the true strength of Devil-Jin unless he is permitted in tournaments. Not only will we not know how well he can be played, but we will not know how well he can be countered by other characters. Not to mention, the initial surge of potential new players we can get from the Tekken community will be missed.
However, if we allow Devil-Jin, the lingering fear of over-centralization returns. If Devil-Jin is indeed broke, and players start seeing groups of Devil-Jin in top 8 at major tournaments, it will turn many away from the series. A ban later down the line will be too little too late. With how often new fighters are coming out these days, they will have already been lost to other games.
I HAVE AN IDEA!
Two rule sets! Stick with me now... In both SC3 and SC4, we had multiple different rule sets. But these rulesets weren't by choice; its because of a lack of leadership. We didn't choose to have varying rules, we just couldn't come together as a community and make a decision. I say with great pride... and anxiety, that the leadership of this community now falls upon me.
I've said many times in the past, the mark of a good leader is whether or not they can make the hard decisions. They don't even have to be the right decisions; but a decision none the less has to be made. Right and wrong is decided by the eventual outcome. Of course, it's this attitude itself that gives many of you readers pause when it comes to my so-called "decision making ability".
So when it comes to Devil-Jin, I've made a decision:
Two rule sets; that I'm hoping will let us get the best of both worlds, while minimizing the negatives. Since Devil-Jin will be banned from major events, players will not see an over-centralization of Devil-Jin in top 8 (whether or not another character ends up being broke remains to be seen). Obviously Devil-Jin players will be obligated to have a secondary character, so if Devil-Jin eventually gets banned, they will have a character to fall back on and the risk of losing them will be minimized.
- At MAJOR events, Devil-Jin will be banned until EVO 2K12 at the earliest.
- At MINOR events, tournament organizers will be encouraged to allow him.
As well, since Devil-Jin will be legal at minor events, we can potentially attract a few new players from the Tekken community. In addition to that, more people will be inclined to play Devil-Jin so we will more quickly discover how well he plays, and how well other characters play against him. We'll learn more about him faster, and if he eventually does get unbanned, players will be more prepared to face against him.
If sometime during the next few months, we quickly discover that Devil-Jin is broke, we can ban him from minor events as well at that time. If however, we make it all the way to after EVO 2K12 and we have yet to unilaterally ban Devil-Jin from tournaments, we can come back to this discussion and decide whether or not we wish to make him legal at major events.
I can't force anyone to follow these rules. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if EVO announces that Devil-Jin is legal at EVO 2K12 since Namco is a sponsor and they probably want him to be played. I wont presume to know how much influence Namco has on the decision making at EVO, but its a possibility to be aware of. None the less, these are the rules I will be recommending to the EVO council and I hope they accept them.
Naturally, Dampierre is banned from tournaments until he becomes available as DLC.
Remaining rules for Soulcalibur V can be found here: http://8wayrun.com/wiki/tournament-ruleset/
The official Devil-Jin CAS design will be decided in the upcoming weeks. A save file will eventually be available for download here at 8WAYRUN. Until then, only two costumes should be considered "legal": Size 3 Samurai preset and Size 3 Ninja preset. Feel free to make two CAS characters with those default design presets; you need two in case of mirror matches.