Every move you can think of has already been created.
It sounds ludicrous, but there are only so many ways that one character can beat up another character, and all of that expended effort, all of that struggle to come up with a “cool” new special move, all of that work comes to naught when you end up with something that is, at its core, derivative. That time is better spent on other areas of the game.
Do not be ashamed to use the ideas of other designers. It is no more offensive to use a pre-constructed library in Java, than it is to take the ideas from another game and reapply them. The ideas don’t make the designer, execution does. Throw off these chains of constantly reinventing the wheel and get to stealing borrowing mining. The mining process begins at the greatest source. At the fount of cool, flashy and powerful moves: Marvel vs Capcom 2.
Rides are about to get taken
The year is 1998 and Marvel vs Capcom explodes into arcades, and taking the ideas learned from the previous VS titles, it expands them to both the marvel and capcom casts. Two years later, its follow up, Marvel Vs Capcom 2 (MvC2), was the pièce de résistance. It used all the wonderful ideas of simplicity, massive fan service, team attacks, and bad-ass moves laid down by its predecessors, refined those ideas, and then coupled them with a dizzying cast of character. Do the math and you quickly see why this game is a treasure trove of ideas. 56 characters in total, each with several normal attacks, air attacks, special moves, assist moves, hyper moves… it quickly adds up.
The quantity of moves is not the only reason MvC2 is an inspiration. The design philosophy of this game, of the VS series in general, is that if you “break” everyone, everyone is balanced. Too often, when things seem overpowered, our instincts tell us to swing that “nerfbat” like the game owes us money, but if you are going to make a move impotent, then why even have the move? It’s true that in MvC2 not every single move, of every single character, is a game-breaking super attack (that’s just unrealistic). But for each character the designers strove to give each character a “trick” – something fun to give them style. Here emerges the beauty and joy of this game. Around every corner is some new eye-exploding, opponent-smashing or health-restoring nugget that is yours to discover, and there is a lot to discover. Yes, many moves are character-themed, subtly-twisted derivatives of other moves, but it still leaves us with a large amount of ideas to mine both thematically and functionally.
Shit’s about to get real
Having a cast of 55 characters means you have a great collage of themes to pull from: plant guys, giant robots, samurai, cyborgs, ninjas, demons, hulks, egyptian gods, juggernauts… the list goes on. When stuck thematically, this game can be an inspirational source. Even if you have a character that doesn’t fit a mold cast by MvC2, the level of creativity can be helpful to get ideas popping.
As a thematic tool MvC2 is great, but what is more beneficial is its help in defining functionality. When designing enemies your goal is to make sure that every guy gets his own little trick. The trick can be something as simple as the pest enemy you use to swarm the player (emphasizing your big area attacks), or it can be something as special case as the medusa from god of war (emphasizing movement and timing your attacks).
That’s a lot of characters
As a source of potential ideas MvC2 has both depth and breadth, and this combination makes it an intimidating game to mine. So, if MvC2 is the source we should steal from, where and how do we start? First, you must understand how to deconstruct the game, because knowing how the moves are constructed gives you a fighting game lexicon. Second, you must understand why and how you reconstruct them. Just taking random moves and smashing them — square peg round hole — into your cast of characters defeats the purpose of this exercise. Additionally, if you are making a single player action adventure game, there are certain philosophies that are incongruous with a fighting game. Your cast has roles to fulfill, so you will need to know what moves help you define these roles, how to modify these moves so they are compatible with the game you are making, and how to maintain a balance in your play.
Marvel vs Capcom 2 is an amazing resource, but it isn’t the only resource. Tekken, Street Fighter, Guilty Gear, the list goes on and on. In the next post I will talk about how to analyze, describe, and deconstruct what you are seeing in MvC2, and armed with this you will, hopefully, be able to apply this knowledge it to any game you see, not just MvC2.