Test build and how it relates to our mission

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Mar 032010

This is something I have heard people say, and I understand what they are thinking so I want to clear this up now. There is some perception that some of the more liberal changes seen in the test build represent us moving away from our mission. I disagree with this assessment, but I see how people might think that so I want to explain it more carefully.

Our mission was to change Brawl while retaining the “essence” of what made Brawl… Brawl. This means we did not implement global changes of such a nature as to corrupt what made the original Brawl good. I know there’s a vocal minority that think the original Brawl is not good, but we are talking about the most successful tournament level fighting game of all time here. I think I’m going to err on the side of assuming it’s good!

To protect this, we set limits for ourselves. Changing how powerful moves were was fine, but we weren’t going to go on some crazy binge altering frame speeds. A few were going to be needed, but we approached it with the absolute utmost of conservatism. We weren’t going to change hitbox sizes or such either; it’s unclean in several ways, and it just makes the game less pure to the original design. I won’t lie; certain other projects influenced these limits. In particular, at the time Brawl+ was using a code called the “deadlands” that caused Luigi’s Mansion to be permanently broken and re-arranged the platforms on it a bit. When I saw this, I just about freaked out. Luigi’s Mansion is one of the most tactical and deep stages in Brawl, and that basically turns it into a goofy flat + plat stage. Luigi’s Mansion had its share of abuses sure, and the deadlands are doubtless more “fair”. However, to me, it was a complete and total annihilation of the soul of the stage, and I could not and still cannot accept that sort of sacrifice in the name of “improvement” or “balance”. Thinkaman had a similar reaction to seeing hacks to remove stale moves; we both felt very strongly that, while we did want to improve the game, we wanted to keep what made it good in the first place.

However, I’m not stupid, and neither is Thinkaman. To improve something, one must change it. In the last release, we had far more limited coding tools and less experience, and even still we pushed the limits of what we could do with things like simple power tweaks. We saw dramatically improved balance; I feel as though the first standard release was a high quality product. However, there were several emergent properties of what we did, and the tiers fell in somewhat inconvenient ways on us. An emergent thing, a small detail to some perhaps, is that Link’s fsmash hit 2 became safe on block because of the power increase. This was totally unintended, and while I don’t think it’s bad for gameplay, it does very much change the nature of punishing Link for forward smashing. How is that really different from a frame speed modification? It feels somewhat academic moreso than real. With the tiers too, there were issues. We gave some truly dramatic and very powerful buffs to Ganondorf and Captain Falcon. They became viable, but an honest assessment suggested they were still kicking up the low tiers. Worst of all, their problem matchups were the ones they just couldn’t touch very well, especially Olimar. Further power buffs would just polarize them, they would make them go from “strong” to “absurd”, and all around we really just knew we couldn’t just make their moves stronger and make them better. We also had general game power creep issues. As the average of the cast in terms of power keeps moving upward, we are in a sense changing the game itself. We are just at the limit of this approach.

In short, we saw that we were in a position with our approach whereby we could either increase the scope of our changes or accept a permanent class of mediocre characters. The game’s name itself should be the greatest sign of our mission of all; a permanent class of mediocre characters would merely be defeat for us. Thinkaman, however, saw in some of our previous work inspiration for a direction, and that was Ike. Ike was largely a success story for Balanced Brawl. He wasn’t changed much, but his one change was concrete and easy to understand, and it really opened him up. It at the time may have seemed out of character of our design, and I put my name on it because I thought it was simply what was necessary. However, here we saw that is was the necessary direction for our design, and hence we did what we did. We were still careful and measured, making sure each change that made it past the rawest of internal testing was at the very least non-obviously overpowered though at this point I feel as though none of the changes are truly overpowered. They do, however, offer themselves as a panacea for the permanent class of mediocrity. Fox, Wolf, Ganondorf, Captain Falcon, Bowser, Peach… These characters were the low end of the first release, but now those characters and their mains have something truly worth being excited over and something that makes those characters flexible enough to address real match situations against the best in the game.

There is something else though. We also had to ask ourselves what it is we truly were trying to accomplish here. As an example of good game design, I feel the first standard release was a brilliant success. As a successful competitive game, it was a total failure. No one played it. We’re irrelevant. I am not willing to accept a permanent status of that either. Much was said internally about what we needed to do to fix this, but the ultimate conclusion was that, in the end, people are not going to download our game to enjoy Lucario’s dash attack doing 1% more damage. That change may be good for balance in its own carefully thought out and small way, but it doesn’t get downloads. Ike flying across the stage does, and now we have dozens of Ikes. Make no mistake; we seek to truly succeed as a competitive tournament level game, and we are prepared to do whatever it takes to attain that goal. I think as designers we have matured enough to understand the game on the deepest of levels, and I think the quality of our product remains of such an incredible calibur that we have the potential to truly take off if only we can get the game out there and played. We have some surprises up our sleeves; we have heard the cries of the community, at Meta Knight, at divisive stage rules, at infinites and long chaingrabs, at obviously useless characters, at characters who seem good at first but in truth are not, at planking, scrooging, air camping, and all manners of stalling. The malaise on the Brawl community is not something we are ignorant to, and we can offer a cure. I think that is our hope, and I think this direction in changes is a necessary step on our path to success. I hope all of our current supporters can see this, and I hope they continue to support us as we work our hardest to see this project to true success.