Can fans change a game?
Recently, the dates of the open beta test has been announced for the upcoming fighting game Guilty Gear Strive. While the details of the open beta are good and the game looks incredible, this will be the occasion to check if the netcode (promoted as “innovative” and “optimized“) using the rollback mechanic will come out as good as promised.
It’s not an empty fear since another game that promised it, Street fighter V, ended up being terribly flawed and Capcom made little to compensate up to this day, even after tournament problems and the scandal when a simple modder took the issue at hand and partially fixed it in a week or two.
Having rollback netcode is a great deal to fighting games, where very small decisions and imputs are made in incredible short amounts of time and where a single frame of lag makes a difference: the technology behind rollback makes them actually playable online, reducing many issues related to the other tech used, delay netcode, and enlarging the playable player’s base.
Now, I won’t explain what all of this means, as there are a lot of better places to check (not now at least), but I want to focus on the fact that this highly anticipated feature was NOT originally included in the game. In fact, even the first disastrous beta test was using their delay netcode infrastructure and, in many interviews, the rollback netcode was seen as something “they were pondering about” and that “was discussed internally”.
So, what has changed since then, forcing the company to delay its game?
The feedback and continued insistance by the internet crowd made the change possible. Of course, the fact that a positive spike in players and in sales over an old version of Guilty Gear, GGAC+R for steam after they implemented rollback, indeed played a part, but none of this could have happened without fans vocing their displeasure in all the corners of the internet.
While it’s true that many of those voices were just parroting what other people said (monkey sees, monkey does), many respectable points were raised, and having rollback in a major japanese title is an important milestone that will, hopefully, open the way for other companies to follow.
The situation on online infrastructure in japanese fighting games is not currently in a good shape: some titles suffered during corona times as a consequence, like Grandblue Fantasy Versus, missing the possibility of building an offline scenes; others have an online infrastructure so bad that they were even excluded completely from exibition matches in EVO ONLINE 2020.
Talking about EVO Online, the online version of the biggest and most famous fighting game torunament ever, it’s interesting noticing how the playable tournaments were, actually, only games with rollback netcode.
But I’m losing focus.
We have to notice that in Guilty Gear Strive not only the netcode but the UI, another heavily contested element, was changed from the original design following fan criticism. Now, I did liked the original UI, but it is interesting to see how much has changed due to fan pressure.
That rises a question: is it right to listen to fan/internet noise and give them what they want?
The answer is: no
Any artistic piece of media, as videogames are, shouldn’t be influenced or modified by external factors, be studios, majors or fans. It destroy creativity, artistic freedom, innovation… all the things that makes something great. While is understandable wanting to at least contain the costs and approach the biggest share possible of the market, taking creative freedom from a studio and its director will have conseguences in the quality of innovation of a work.
And that’s not even considering that the fans themselves don’t know what they wants
Great games are often synonims of great directors, who are able to put their thought and visions in their games with little compromise. Hideo Kojima, Shigeru Miyamoto: recognizable game director oversees games in many aspects following their vision, and sometimes are recognized as difficult to work with (like in movies). But if this vision is not followed, the results can be an hollow piece of media in long list of empty clones of itself.
If that’s the case, listening to the fans creates a dangerous precedent, as it may become the norm to modify a series under fan’s consensus.
So, why am I happy with Guilty Gear Strive changes?
In video games we have much more to consider than movies.
Gameplay, design and artistic decisions should be free from external influence: but netcode is something completely different.
Netcode is the infrastructure that allows players to ACTUALLY play the game, to deliver at its best the experience that the game is developed on, (in the case of a fighting game, the multiplayer). Continuing to use an obsolete technology is not game design, is just… stubborness by a market (the japanese one) that has histocally been blessed by good connections.
The only reason in favour of delayed netcode, outside more work and code complexity, may be that delay netcode appears identical to the “normal” game to viewers and casual players, while rollback, in case of bad connection, visually show the difference by literally skipping frames.
But that has become meaningless and, as Corona changed the way we see things and have shown all the fallacies in online gaming as we are forced in our homes, Game Developers and companies has started taking notes.
Netcode is not then something related to a Game Vision: it is the structure necessary to play it. If we were talking about a movie, we would not criticize the movie itself, but its distribution and release only in its original language without subtitles: that doesn’t influence the movie itself, just the possibility for people to enjoy it.
Concluding: fans have the power to change things, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad.
In case of Guilty gear Strive, helped by the openess (especially for an important Japanese house) of the developers, this ended up being a good news and, as such, I (as well as many of its fan) can’t wait for its release.
Let’s just hope that the open beta goes well…