The fighting game genre has always been dominated by massive companies hoping to win support from large communities. But as more and more fighting game players have broken into game design, the state of indie fighting games has grown immensely.
While there are a lot of indie fighting games, most end up being left behind as the kinds of problems they face can usually only be solved with an abundance of resources. The best indie fighting games can circumvent these problems, or at least come up with interesting solutions, that other fighting games, or games in general, could benefit from.
The challenges of making an indie fighting game
Things like balance issues, lacking content, or unappealing design are usually all linked to the single unifying fact around indie fighting games. They are often made with much smaller budgets than their bigger counterparts.
The most well known and successful indie fighting game, Skullgirls, released data around how much it cost for them to add a new character to the game, showing that a single new character cost them roughly $250,000. For many indie games, that much money could be their entire budget. To get around this issue, most indie games make cuts, but they can have dire consequences.
For example, failing to balance the game properly could cause the game being dropped or ignored by its audience, and lacking interesting content can turn players off as soon as the game starts to feel stale. To get around this, the best indie fighting games make everything they add to the game count in order to stretch each dollar as far as it will go.
Indie fighting games will rarely have a dozen or so different niche mechanics that almost never get used, opting instead to have maybe two or three core mechanics that can be used frequently.
Choose what to include carefully
Smaller indie fighting games like Them’s Fightin’ Herds (occasionally referred to as “My Little Pony” fighting game) or the recent Tough Love Arena chose to provide players with an incredibly limited roster. Both titles became available with just six playable characters, with the latter even going so far as to have their six share between three available movesets.
Them’s Fightin’ Herds was able to get a lot of support from well-known artists and fans due to their My Little Pony inspired design. This caught the attention of Lauren Foust, the creator of the cult sensation.
Nevertheless, many of the features added were heavily inspired by other successful fighting games. This took some risks out of the development of new features, as much of what was added had been staple features of games like Guilty Gear or Blazblue.
To help keep the game simple, Them’s Fightin’ Herds also included just four buttons, a light attack, medium attack, heavy attack, and a special magic button. While this helped make the game accessible for new players to pick up and play, it had the added benefit of being cheaper to develop, and ensuring that each character ended up with a somewhat balanced kit of moves.
Tough Love Arena does something similar, but strips away even more complexity. This game has been made so accessible and inviting that it seems it was created specifically to show new players how to get into fighting games.
What bigger fighting games can learn from their indie counterparts
Something bigger budget fighting games often struggle with is new player accessibility. Such titles often have layers of complexity built in from the start, especially those that have iterated on their design principles for decades. Street Fighter 2 was an incredibly simple fighting game featuring eight-way movement inputs and six attacks with a few special moves thrown in.
Every level of complexity available in the game was found by its audience, with even something as integral as cancelling moves initially being a bug in the game’s design. Capcom has since released over thirty titles in the Street Fighter franchise, with each new game usually having a new array of features to help distinguish it from the others.
This process means that the Street Fighter games are often well-designed and developed, with decades of experience to pull from, but it also means that new players can often feel lost trying to get into one. Someone who tries to get in may feel like he/she needs to learn the skills and developments of decades prior just to keep up with others. This usually scares people off and is part of why fighting games have the hardest time finding new players.
Indie fighting games don’t have the benefit of name recognition, however. They have to earn an audience off of novelty, good design, and fun. This type of pressure helps indie games hyperfocus on exactly what kind of game they want to be. No such title is going to be better than Street Fighter at being Street Fighter, they have to find their own identity and their own way of becoming relevant.Published 06 Jan 2021, 08:48 IST