At one point, fighting games stopped being fighting games. Instead of just mastering a fighter’s movements and internalizing the speed and pace of a game, players realized that there was a deeper, almost imperceptible level in fighting games that once mastered, would give them a huge advantage over their opponents. They learned to cancel motions and read frame data, effectively scrutinizing the game and the code that created it. They developed techniques that then inspired developers to create new fighting games, creating a feedback loop that split the player base into two camps: the mass of intermittent players who might choose a fighting game for fun. and know only what the game explicitly tells you, and the small group of dedicated fighters who use their obscure knowledge of the game’s inner workings to dominate these other fools.
I’m one of those fools, if you can’t tell.
I’ve been playing fighting games for as long as they’ve been around. Apart from getting the high score on a Yie Ar Kung-Fu Mr. Gatti’s pizza maker at one point during the Reagan years, I was never particularly good at them. I’m the kind of player who learns all the moves and combos of my favorite character, then gets destroyed by my friends whose only strategy is to smash the buttons as quickly as possible. I can handle the computer with lower difficulties, but I’m desperate for real competition unless they are also trying to figure out the game. And as bad as I am against button presses, I’m catastrophically worse off when I run into someone who knows this secret language of fighting games. If you can count the frames and are looking for perfect rounds, you better hope I end up on the other side of your online match.
I assumed it would be the same with Mortal Kombat 11. I was going through my typical routine with a new fighting game: I would rush through the tutorial just to get the basics, then play story mode until I hit a wall about three-quarters of the way through. I would bang my head against this wall over and over again for a few days, then reduce the difficulty (if that’s even an option) or give up entirely. And I only went online when I felt the need to be absolutely embarrassed by a stranger.
Mortal Kombat 11 cares, however. He cares all gamers, not just world class fighting game masters waltzing through such games like Neo. His tutorial is the first I’ve seen that teaches not only the rules of the game, but those unspoken techniques that separate serious gamers from tourists. He draws the curtain on this hidden tradition and helps everyone start to understand it.
The tutorial begins like any fighting game lesson, showing you basic controls and moves before moving on to specials and combos. It doesn’t end with the moveset, however. He then teaches offensive and defensive strategy, helping you think about the importance of spacing and timing. It breaks down motion cancellation and explains why it’s a useful technique. And then he explains the frame data in detail, showing how the frames of each movement are divided into three periods, explaining how the start time and recovery of a movement can be used to its advantage (or disadvantage), and even guiding players through the concepts. as safe (or dangerous) on the block. The player is actually performing all of these techniques throughout, so that they can begin to develop a feel for how and when to perform them.
I’ve been hearing about these kinds of techniques for years, but I’ve never had the time to study them. There was no easy way to do this efficiently – I had to post a website that broke down all this information, or a video on YouTube, and go back and forth between my phone and the game while trying to figure out how. do it. It is neither fun nor practical. Not understanding these techniques puts a damper on a player’s quality in a fighting game, so the difficulty in knowing them was a de facto barrier to entry for the vast majority of players.
Mortal Kombat 11 is doing everything possible to break down this barrier. It breaks down the imperceptible into easy-to-follow, step-by-step chunks that anyone can learn. Of course, just knowing how to count frame data doesn’t mean that most players will be able to do it efficiently with any regularity. Additionally, it’s entirely possible that new meta-techniques will be discovered by the fighting game community as they continue to seek perks, once again leaving most gamers out of the loop. And maybe NetherRealm intentionally incorporated some new meta tactics into Mortal Kombat 11, knowing that the most dedicated players would find them quickly and smuggle them around as they once did with these other techniques.
For now, however, Mortal Kombat 11 explodes much of the mystery around fighting games. I have been playing Mortal Kombat games for almost 30 years, but this is my first time playing really played the way fighting games are meant to be played these days. And that is only possible thanks to this tutorial.
Edits from Garrett Martin Doughcomedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.