Insomnia | Commentary

Domination 101: 2D vs. 3D: Seth Responds! Round 2, Fight!

By Seth Killian / July 9, 2008

This article is part of a series of articles originally posted on the Shoryuken forums sometime before the Great Crash of 2003. In an effort to bring them to the attention of a new generation of players, we will be re-posting them here in the coming weeks and months.

Since I wasn't able to respond to many of the comments I received on last week's article, I'd like to take some time to do that here, squeezing a little more theory in along the way. I didn't want anybody to think that I didn't still care! And just so no one complains that I'm being "too mean" (yeah -- being mean is bad! I was actually thinking of changing the column's name to "Seth's Happy-Time Sissy Jam", where we all hold hands and everyone's a winner! -- maybe now is the time), I've decided not to name names in what follows. You know who you are...

Some points:

Let's not have any more stupid discussions about whether floating anti-gravity jumps and "deathfists" or breathing fire and stretching your limbs are "more realistic". They're both stupid and fake. Bickering about which is more fake, even if doable, is a complete waste of time. The perspective of "realism" is irrelevant. Every non-moron understands that these are games. Chess is also a game. Is chess a better or worse game due to how "realistic" it is (or isn't)? Does pointing out that castles don't even move at all in real life make one whit of difference to its quality as a game? No. These discussions just tend to be a way for people who don't want to actually think about what goes into a good game to pretend like they still have something to say, since any goon can be an expert on how well something corresponds to "reality". Their second awful consequence is to open the door for the silly martial arts wanna-bes that plague the fighting-game world to brag about their own oh-so-cool years of training. Bad news boys -- it's irrelevant. I don't really care how much time you've wasted learning to use your head for breaking things that the rest of us would just use a hammer on. How much stuff is there that really needs breaking anyway? By mentioning it at all, you only prove you'd have been better served by learning to think a little instead. Don't let this be you.

Somebody else was trying to "correct" me by pointing out that Tekken (for instance) does have distance games, with running moves, etc. (as if I didn't know). Is that pointer supposed to be a joke? Not only are these "distance games" far less complex and effective (ever see anyone try and backdash three times to set up a running move? Why not?) -- they're not really "distance" games at all -- it's just a different way of getting the characters back in each other's faces, where (as I said before) pretty much the entire game takes place. Total red-herring.

We should also stop to notice that nothing I said about the games depended directly on how good I am at either 2D or 3D games. This means that just saying things like "I'm the world champion at SC, so you don't know what you're talking about!" is very dumb. It may be true that I don't know what I'm talking about, but if so, it's not because you're the SC world champion. Your SC skills only matter if you can use them to explain what it is (in particular) that I've overlooked -- give reasons for why your game is good -- don't just tell me you're good at it and expect that to be the end of it. It proves nothing one way or the other. On its own it's irrelevant, dingus.

People talk about the frame rates of Tekken moves, etc. "Ooh! Don't I sound technical! Since I'm putting numbers to it, I must really be talking about something!" WTF. As if SF (and EVERY fighting game) doesn't also have them. Of course they do, and knowing the recovery rates from different distances can be very important games in them as well. It's not usually as important -- that's true, but just by pointing that out it doesn't somehow magically follow that therefore 3D games are better.

Look: The reason knowing precise frame rates, etc. are so important in Tekken has to do with the relative percentage of "punishable" moves. Now obviously, almost every move in SF as well is "punishable" in the moronic sense that you can be hit out of it. So, in the non-moronic sense, when I say "punishable" I mean "can be punished even when not explicitly anticipated" (so just because it's possible to DP a low short that doesn't make it a "punishable" move in my sense). Sometimes, I can merely block what you were trying (rather than actively anticipating that particular move), and still be able to hit you back -- just for having tried it at all. That's what I'm talking about.

There are a lot of moves like this. Since way back when, Blanka's ball has been "punishable" by Dhalsim's limbs. Even when Dhalsim is just sitting there, if he blocks the ball he can make Blanka pay. A lot of supers in various games are punishable when blocked in just the same way. The number of punishable moves and the ease with which they are punished has a big impact on the effectiveness of a character, obviously. In many of his incarnations, Blanka's ball is a prime weapon. When it's not a safe attack initiator, he's weaker overall (witness his dramatic rankings drop from HF to Super SFII -- he gained damage and useful, cancelable moves, but his ball (both of them) became a joke, and he stunk accordingly. On the other side of the coin, you have MVC2's Cable, whose AHVB makes practically everything you try against him punishable).

So while these are a few examples of punishability in 2D games, it remains true that most of the moves in 2D games can't be punished by most characters. That is to say, you can't score directly just for having blocked the moves correctly. In a lot of 3D games, on the other hand, that isn't the case. Comparatively, there are a huge number of punishable moves -- in fact almost everything is punishable under some circumstance. So, knowing frame rates (aka the timing for how to punish the move) becomes critical, and involves a lot more of what non-3D players find such a drag about these games: memorization. You have to memorize a ton of stuff to be competitive -- and it's not limited simply to silly strings or throw escapes. In MVC2, you can tell a good Cable from a bad one mostly just by seeing how many moves they've memorized how to punish with the AHVB. The same is true in most 3D games as well, but applies to every character -- not just to a single one. Effectiveness ends up having a lot to do with memorizing just when you can hit them back, and how hard you can hit once you do.

I think the 2D alternative of comparatively more unpunishable moves is a good thing. It shifts the emphasis away from reacting to individual moves, and more towards responding to their larger consequences in an overall gameplan. 3D tends to focus much more on the moment, rather than the overall flow of a match. This is fun for a lot of reasons -- not least of which is the increased chances for dramatic comebacks, but I believe that the format is less able to support the deepest kinds of strategy. It's precisely the unpunishability of moves like the fireball (once it's safely executed, obviously -- of course you can hit someone for trying to get one out in the first place) that helps to make it so great. It sets up multiple (re: not just your character itself) threats on the screen, and it's from this multiplicity -- and the interaction between independent events -- that complexity emerges.

Finally, there were a number of complaints that my views were "biased". Knuckleheads: that's what it means to have a view -- having a view, any view, is having a bias. If you'd taken two seconds to think about that before posting, it would probably have been pretty obvious. Since you're clearly having some trouble expressing yourselves, allow me to help. What you meant to do was establish that I've got not just a bias, but an unfair, or wrong bias. Of course, that's also exactly what you didn't do. I imagine you didn't do it because that would require that you have some actual reasons. It would have required thinking, instead of posting as a knee-jerk reaction. It's called "having something to say". Look into it.

Instead, people were at pains to point out that since my articles appear on a site covering 2D games [SRK, where this article first appeared, was originally devoted to 2D games. --Ed], I can't possibly be expected to really comment fairly. WTF. So if I like one type of game, I can't really have anything valid to say about the other? That would make it kinda hard to explain how Alex Valle, the #1 SF player in the nation, was also the winner of the National Tekken championship, wouldn't it? Morons. "No, no -- let's not look at what was actually said -- let's just explain why whatever he says can't possibly be any good! Yeah, that's it!". "It's wrong because he's, uh, biased! Yeah!" A classic scrub avoidance technique -- I commend you on your mastery.

This leads us to the concluding point. While I agree that there are some fundamental differences between 2D and 3D games, and that each have different, independently legitimate strengths, I think too many of you are content to try and turn it into some kind of "stalemate". Since when does "different" = "non-comparable"? We successfully compare different kinds of things all the time! In fact, different things are the only things worth comparing in the first place -- obviously. You ever hear anyone compare two of the exact same things? Um, no. Ever think about why not? Because it would be incredibly boring -- there'd be nothing to compare. That's what comparisons are -- they put different things side-by-side. If you think that 2D and 3D games are different in some way that prevents comparisons, I'm afraid you'll have to provide that pesky scourge to the blabber-mouth: reasons. Why are these games "apples and oranges"? From an abstract perspective, they have a remarkable amount in common.

Real comparison is the right way to understand how both can be improved. With the way many seem inclined to leave it, it sounds like you think "Well, if you get the Tekken-style stuff right, you can't possibly also get the SF-style stuff right!" Um, why not? I think you pretty obviously could have an incredibly involved up-close fight and interesting distance strategies. It's not like one necessarily precludes the other. My fear is that this is just another symptom of that basic scrub motivator -- laziness. If we're sure that they can't be compared (because it's all just bias, after all!), we're free from the awful burden of trying to figure something out. It might be true that the two really can't be compared (although the existence of VOOT, with an involved system of both, seems to make that conclusion difficult to defend), but you should be dragged kicking and screaming to that sad conclusion -- have it forced upon you -- rather than passively accepting the bad news just because it saves you the trouble of thinking for yourself.