Motion Inputs Are NOT Stupid, Competitive Games Need Physicality

Motion Inputs in Fighting Games

A decade or two ago, it was participation trophies. But that wasn’t enough, kids were still crying about their uselessness. Now, well-meaning idiot adults are now thinking about making sports and games less difficult, thus lowering the barrier of entry. Despite good intentions, this is the opposite of what’s good for competition. After all, a video game is only as fun as its reward—the result of being able to achieve what takes practice to successfully accomplish.

This blog post started off refuting the unfounded claims of a detractor, then a deep look into the intricacies of motion inputs in fighting games, and finally looking at what happens when you make a competitive game less difficult. You may think at first that making a game easier lowers the barrier of entry, but it ends up being even less hospitable to the less skilled.

Let’s take a closer look at the interesting phenomenon of scrubs wanting games to be easier and less physical. For instance, there’s the issue of motion inputs, the thing that makes fighting games hard for most beginners.

When a YouTuber Called Motion Inputs Stupid

“So, you could remove motion commands from games, but you have to change how the moves work because of it. And again, motion commands are not what stops people from being good at fighting games. It’s not the issue. Learning motions does not make you an incredible fighting game player.

If you and I play a fighting game and I’m an experienced fighting game player and you’re new and all the special moves are on one button, it doesn’t mean you’re gonna win. In fact, it probably means that I’ll make even less mistakes and you have even less chance to win.

I agree in the sense that there’s nothing wrong with making games that don’t have motion commands in them, but to say that the design doesn’t change or anything is wrong. The design has to change.” — 2:40

Bilbzy is an Australian content creator who mostly played and made videos about Jump Force. He stated in his video that other games don’t use motion inputs. He’s right, except for character action games like Devil May Cry and Astral Chain, beat-em-ups like Streets of Rage, and so on. Yeah, I think this guy doesn’t seem to have a good handle on the topic in question.

On his Twitter, Bilzby once described himself as “YouTube retired,” which likely means he got bullied out of content creation. That’s a sad thing to see, especially as someone who also took a long hiatus from making YouTube videos due to the negativity I received from the most-viewed video on my channel. But I did make a mea culpa response to that, while Bilzby never seems to have shown any contrition for his derided opinions.

The problem with seeing motion inputs in fighting games as outdated design is due to narrow perspective. The precursor of the fighting game genre—beat-em-ups—already had single-button special moves. If you only had those, there’s no way you can have a diverse moveset for each character. Motion inputs allow for movesets to be filled out with controls that only have a D-pad and 4 to 8 face buttons.

Motion inputs are not outdated. On the contrary, they were ahead of their time. They made fighting games possible in all their adrenaline-pumping glory. Without having come up with motion inputs, Capcom would’ve never been able to differentiate the roster of characters that came with Street Fighter II. It would’ve been a lot more boring, and it would’ve flopped.

To call motion inputs stupid is to call fighting games stupid since they’re what made fighting games as we know it possible. You can’t put down a fundamental facet of something and not risk putting down the entire thing. But ok, let’s say we do need to come up with a better way to do special attacks without so much manipulation of the D-pad.

Maybe you should just play Tekken then. Most of its commands are pressing a button while holding a direction, then following it up with another button to do a combo. A “superior” system already exists, and you could’ve played something that allows for a “greater show of skill.” If that’s still too hard for you, then you really have a problem.

But just like with anything in this world, anything worth doing likely isn’t easy. Motion inputs in fighting games are to be practiced in repetition, much like techniques in martial arts. You get good with the boring stuff to then become proficient with the fun stuff. Again, this is why detractors call it bad design because games are meant to be fun.

Games that end up being centerpieces of competition come about due to emergent gameplay—new ways of playing stemming from the need to find better ways to solve problems and optimize existing gameplay. New tricks, techniques, strategies, tactics, metagame, and so on.

This is how combos were discovered by accident in Street Fighter II, the Korean backdash in Tekken, and wavedashing in Smash Bros. In a way, don’t blame the game for being hard, but the people who were sweaty enough to find ways to “make them harder.”

EDIT(13SEP2021@11:15AM): I forgot about this video. It explains this way better than I can.

“The Dragon Punch Makes Walking Forward a Defensive Action”

EDIT(30OCT2023@10:45PM): I can’t find the VOD anymore. But I assure you, Daigo definitely said it on his stream.

There’s an FGC Translated video where Daigo talks about how having a dragon punch (shoryuken) changes how he thinks about moving in neutral. He says walking forward is a defensive action when you are looking to anti-air because you can input DP much easier. So when you play the fireball game, you can walk forward offensively to keep your spacing for good fireballs and also have easier reactions to jumps.

Daigo “The Beast” Umehara is known for a lot of great things in video games, like being a near-unbeatable god in long sets, Evo Moment 37, and his back-to-back Evo wins for Street Fighter IV in 2009 and 2010. One of the things that has let him achieve these things is what’s called the “Ume-Shoryu,” also known as his psychic uppercut. He has an uncanny ability to make the most incredible reads and hit a DP to counter even the most non-telegraphic of attacks.

This is his secret. Walking becomes a defensive action in neutral if you’re playing a shoto character since the first input of a dragon punch is forward. As long as you’re walking forward, you can easily hit down to down-forward plus punch to execute the DP. This would not matter at all if a DP was just a button press as it can be pulled off even when walking backwards. The DP is only possible because of the delicate balance between space management and the need to move closer to your opponent.

Thus, you’re telling your opponent, “If you do anything stupid right now while I’m walking forward, you will eat an uppercut.” Your opponent then has to decide whether to bait out an uppercut to punish it, throw fireballs or whatever to make you go backwards, or just continue to play footsies. They’ll certainly think twice before jumping in.

You wouldn’t have this level of strategic complexity in fighting games if special moves were just one-button presses. It’s not to say it’s impossible to implement such a system in a fighting game since a few have been trying that, like Rising Thunder and Fantasy Strike. They have their own dynamics, but they’re certainly a bit different from traditional 2D fighting games because of that one change.

“StarCraft Is NOT Primarily a Strategy Game”

Real-time strategy is a mostly dead genre. Barely anyone but “boomers” play it, and there’s yet to be a new title to breathe new life to this age-old category. Titles like StarCraft, Command & Conquer, and Age of Empires were prime examples of emergent gameplay, and they became popular in some parts of the world.

StarCraft famously took over South Korea, while Age of Empires surprisingly became a staple in Vietnam. Despite that, it seems like most people who aren’t that familiar with real-time strategy games tend to misunderstand what it takes to get good at them.

I’m reminded of this video by Sean “Day[9]” Plott, content creator and former StarCraft professional player. I think the way he puts it makes a whole lot of sense.

“The analogy I’d like to use is that of football… American football has lots of strategy in it. Tons of strategy. But if you go on the field and you are a strategic mastermind and you weigh 90 pounds, you’re going to die. It doesn’t matter because football primarily is a game that demands that you are physically fit and secondarily you get to do all this other stuff.” — 1:40

Whenever people hear the phrase “strategy game,” it gets misconstrued as chess, wherein you sit there and take time to think about your next move. This is the complete opposite of how it is to play a real-time strategy game, which is all about making split-second decisions, tons of multitasking, and endless crisis management.

The name of the game in chess is to play perfectly in all situations. There’s no such thing in StarCraft, but only making a hundred mistakes a minute and making up for as many of them as possible while making even more mistakes as you fight to take down your opponent by trying your best to build a bigger and stronger army. It’s still a game of attrition, but you’re racing against your opponent and the clock to have more pawns.

“It’s not that the game should be made easier so that you get to do the strategy.

This is the equivalent of ‘We need to figure out how to get physical health out of football. We want to have no physical health. We want it to just be about the decisions that happen and that’s how we’re going to make good football.’

‘Golf shouldn’t be about how accurately you can swing that club. It shouldn’t be about that. It should be about the strategy of how you’re hitting the ball in what location. So, we’re going to build a golf machine that hits the ball perfectly every time.’

It’s the same thing with Brood War.” — 3:47

StarCraft II did that “make things easier” thing. Perhaps the same can be said of Street Fighter V, which certainly had easier inputs compared to the plinking and FADC’s of Street Fighter IV. But they did not take out the physicality of gameplay completely, but just made it easier and faster. What resulted were games that were a lot more about reads and reactions.

Ok, it can be said that Street Fighter V is more about reads, while Street Fighter IV was more about reactions. But there was certainly a lot more timer scamming in Street Fighter IV.

“The simple truth is that all of these things are not requirements to begin to play the game.

They ARE the game.

So, if you suck at ten of those things, but you’re good at three of them, you’re playing real StarCraft. You’re doing great. You’re doing just fine.”  — 10:13

The Triad of Performance

This whole scrub mentality of being physically talented in something is bad and tuning the game to make it more accessible for the less physically talented is nothing new.

This has been around forever in martial arts, and the first UFC was like an affirmation for the pencil-neck back in the early 90s, seeing a 170-pound guy in pajamas choke bigger guys to sleep. MMA remained so until big, strong wrestlers started dominating in the late 90s to early 2000s.

This conversation between Shanghai-based martial arts instructor Ramsey Dewey and weightlifting coach Zack Telander talks about that scrub mentality and how it plays a factor in how one who ascribes to that way of thinking practices martial arts.

You may have met such a person before, gloating about how they’ll just shoot an attacker with a gun like Indiana Jones in that scene against the showboating swordsman.

“If you stop and think about it, all these physical disciplines are just expressing what the human body is able to do. So, divorcing strength training, divorcing athleticism from technique is silly.

I always tell people technique is nothing more than an efficient application of strength and power; it’s not a lack of strength and power.” — 3:35

Zack Telander then starts talking about the “Triad of Performance,” which is like a fire triangle, but the ingredients result in sports excellence. The ingredients are physiology, psychology, and specificity.

  • Physiology covers all the physical aspects of the sport, including strength, speed, stamina, etc.
  • Psychology is the competitive mindset and mental fortitude that goes into practicing and competing in a sport.
  • Specificity is all the techniques, strategies, and training methods that are specific to that particular sport.

That last one is very important, and it’s the one thing most people don’t understand. Just because your favorite kickboxer has pretty good hands, it doesn’t mean he’ll do well in professional boxing. In fact, many kickboxers and MMA fighters who transitioned to pro boxing didn’t find as much success as their skills didn’t directly translate as they had assumed.

Here’s how I think the Triad of Performance applies to competitive video games:

  • Physiology is your mechanical skill that allows for optimal gameplay.
  • Psychology is the mindset, gamesmanship, and mental fortitude required to compete.
  • Specificity is the strategies, tactics, and metagame involved with a particular game.

In games, your conditioning is basically your mechanics. Having better mechanics is always a good thing. There have been pro players who weren’t mechanically sound but were still very successful, like Zeus in CounterStrike and sAviOr in StarCraft, but they were the exceptions instead of the rule. They’re not beating s1mple or Flash with raw skill.

As the legendary catch wrestler Karl Gotch once said (paraphrased), “Conditioning is your strongest technique.”

Mechanics—the optimal physical control of gameplay—is a foundational skill, like how technique is to martial arts. But while technique is only one piece of the puzzle in martial arts, mechanics are pretty much your main physical interface with video games.

  • If your execution isn’t consistent in fighting games, you’ll drop combos and make errors that a superior opponent will exploit.
  • If you miss your shots in a first-person shooter, you’ll get taken out before you get a chance to take cover or get a second shot off.
  • If you miss a skillshot in a MOBA, your skill will be on cooldown and your opponent will know you’re helpless at the moment.
  • If your APM and multitasking are below-average in a real-time strategy game, you’ll have less info and your army will be smaller and weaker.

Meanwhile, even if you’re not that good of a striker in martial arts, you may still be able to impose your will with your wrestling and physical strength against an opponent who isn’t as well-conditioned. And of course, it’s even better to have both technique and conditioning. If you disregard one for the other, you’re half-assing your training. Why even compete, then?

Why Are They Trying to Make Games Less Difficult?

For game developers, a lower barrier of entry makes for greater potential for fostering a larger playerbase. For example, MOBAs showed that during the heyday of StarCraft II, with League of Legends easily superseding SC2’s numbers within a couple of years. It’s a lot easier to get into MOBAs compared to RTS games. It was natural that the genre that started as custom maps in RTS games would later exceed RTS games.

For players, a lower barrier of entry allows them to pick up the basics more easily and potentially have fun sooner in their journey through a particular game. If it takes too long for them to start having fun in a new game, that can dissuade them from going further. If a game is well-designed and has a lot of players engaged in it on a daily basis, they’ll keep playing and the competitive scene for that game will thrive for many years to come.

For scrubs, a lower barrier of entry gives them a sense of comfort in that they won’t have to work hard in order to assert their dominance. The LowTierGods and the DarkSydePhils of the world like it when they don’t have to work too hard for their wins. Whenever they lose, it’s because their opponents used cheesy tactics and didn’t earn their wins by playing properly. Skill is born from one’s virtue, not coaxed out by being sweaty with hundreds of hours of hardcore training.

Can you tell that I wrote that last paragraph with a thick coat of sarcasm? But I do get it. Not everyone wants to spend their whole lives being good in a video game. But some do, and their pursuit is not a reason for those who don’t to whine and moan about games being hard.

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