I came across Namco’s official patch notes while sorting through the “incoming” pile here at the Hate Speech News Desk, so this week I’m setting aside my regularly scheduled diatribe in favor of the hot-button issue. Of course, this may also be my last column ever, too. Like many of you, I took one look at the information in the patch notes and realized that life is no longer worth living.
My perfect, beautiful, wonderful game—one about which I’ve never complained, ever—is now irreparably ruined and soiled. As such, my plan for the day is simple: post this article, make arrangements for bequeathing my cherished collections of celebrity bobbleheads and Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and then driving my car off of the Golden Gate Bridge so I can go out like a boss.
Actually, wait a second, everybody! THIS JUST IN: as it turns out, losing your mind over this patch actually isn’t the brilliant plan it seems to be. I guess it’s just all in how you choose to read it . . .
Dealing With Game Updates (And Other Indescribable Traumas)
In On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlines five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. We’re all fancy-ass gamers, though, with high-impact, fast paced lifestyles, which means we don’t have time for all that. In its place, I offer a three-step model. It’s fast, it’s sleek, and it’s even a little stylish. We’re talking about the Ferrari of coping mechanisms here, people, so I implore you to at least take it for a test drive.
To help make things easier, I'll be providing you with some soothing images, too.
Step 1: Ditch Your Preconceptions
It’s easy to lose track of the fact that fighting games hinge entirely upon relative strengths and weaknesses, but it’s true. Nothing is strong or weak in a vacuum. What do you call a character with an i3 unblockable mid that does 99% life in a game where every other character has that same move, but it insta-kills? Unplayable trash. Likewise, it’s easy to look at individual changes, for good or ill, and jump to all manner of erroneous conclusions. The upcoming patch isn’t just nerfing or buffing your favorite move or your favorite character; it’s changing the entire game ecosystem in literally hundreds of tiny ways. Bearing that in mind, it’s important to take precautions against fixating on one or two things to the exclusion of everything else when no single element is as important as the changes in their totality.
Step 2: Reserve Judgment
This ought to be obvious, but then again, the Internet ought to facilitate intelligent, reasoned debate instead of just gay jokes and increasingly baroque porn. In any case, it’s wholly unreasonable for anyone to get too high or too low without spending a great deal of time digging deeply into these changes, which is patently impossible before they’ve even been patched into the game. Think for a moment about how much the hive-mind’s opinion has shifted in less than two months. Consider the moving targets that have been tier placements for characters like Viola, Pyrrha Omega, Alpha Patroklos, Nightmare, Astaroth, Maxi, and so on. Games take time to mature. Matchups evolve, nuances arise, and things ultimately shift in effectiveness as we continue refining our gameplay and learning new things. Everyone therefore needs to step back, put your dismay in check, and get back to the business of making things as hard as possible for the other guy. More to the point, most people aren’t playing at a level which really allows for them to make well-reasoned, objective assessments of balance issues. Even the best of us are still deep in the research process. Hell, even if you’re in contention to win every major you enter, it’s still smartest not to blame losses on your character.
Here, have a scented candle. They're so relaxing!
Step 3: Consider the Big Picture
More important than any single balance change, this update signals a number of larger positive elements about which we should be getting excited. First of all, fuzzy guard, step guard, and backdash canceling are going to be out (by the way, shout outs to the fervent cadre of mouth breathers who insisted that step guard was an intentional feature), which is great news. These were glitches that had the potential to seriously undermine high-level play, and it’s good to see that Namco recognized them as such and took care of business. In fact, all of the system changes look pretty darn good. Second, Namco released a comprehensive list of patch notes, which is relatively unusual for 3D games. This kind of transparency is a very good thing for us not only because it’ll save us a lot of headaches, but because it indicates, once again, a willingness to interface with the community. Lastly, the fact that they’re patching at all is a good thing. Everything thus far points to Namco’s long-term commitment to improving gameplay balance, so it strikes me as exceedingly foolish to think that this patch will be the only revision we’ll see. Everyone needs to keep playing, keep learning, and so on. If your character was unduly hit, have a little faith that it’ll be addressed somewhere down the road rather than going completely nuclear and spamming the boards with your cries of injustice (what would Pat say about that, anyway?). The confluence of an invested dev team and living in an age of downloadable updates means that SCV is a living, changing thing. It’s imperative that we remain open-minded toward balance revisions rather than unceremoniously shitting in the laps of people who are trying to make our game better.
Zen rock gardens are always nice when it's time to de-stress.
So there you have it. Embrace those three steps of grief management and see if you don’t come away feeling a little better. We still have the luxury of playing backseat designer all we want, but it’s best to do it in a way that won’t put anybody at risk for bursting blood vessels. But wait, what’s that? You say it’s still not good enough? You say that game companies should make things better solely through buffs and never with nerfs? I am so, so glad you mentioned that . . .
Remember that strength and weakness are relative values contingent upon the overall game ecosystem, as mentioned above. While issues relating to raw damage output could potentially be solved exclusively with buffs, those are hardly the whole story. Sometimes it’s not necessarily a move’s damage which makes it problematic, but instead its properties, such as guard meter damage, pushback, combo-ability, counterhit properties, and so on. In the case of a move like Leixia’s WS B BE, for example, buffing the rest of the cast does nothing to change the fact that that move is really, really nasty. Yes, you could potentially give every character an option which would lessen that move’s impact or stuff it entirely , but then you end up introducing a great many more variables into an equation already so complex it can’t be adequately solved. Moreover, even if designers weren’t committed to handling counters on a move by move basis and thus decided to simply dole out more borderline-unfair stuff which could easily break countless more matchups, would anyone be any happier for it? It’s far more efficient and reasonable to remove a little bit of the offending move’s bite, which constitutes a de-facto buff for the entire cast.
Woops! I think my fingers slipped and I ended up searching for "mindless, gut-wrenching terror." Honest typo.
All right, enough of my soapbox for today. Once more, just calm down, be reasonable, and be ruthless. So they changed your character? Big deal. That just means you have to find an even cheaper way to mash people’s heads in.
Take a deep breath.
Oh, and if you’re actually excited about any of the upcoming revisions, let me know.