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Blocking Blues
by Joshua Sterns on 04/08/10 01:57:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[Whenever I personally witness a fight blocking will only go so far. Dodging and countering—using your opponent’s momentum against them—seem more effective and is generally more entertaining.]

Hack n’ slash and fighters have utilized blocking mechanics since the beginning of time—err video games. Typically the character will put his/her forearm or weapon in a defense posture. Incoming damage will be minimized or avoided all together.

Good games add more defensive abilities to keep things interesting. This usually involves a counter and/or dodge feature. Enemies will also be given moves that are unblockable. These mechanics are used to avoid one of the worst features in hack n’ slash and fighters. I would like to dub this idea Mortal Kombat Syndrome (MKS).

In the first Mortal Kombat a player could hold down the block button while their enemy rapidly punched. The animation would show the defender in the same animation until they either let go or their opponent ceased their assault.

This wasn’t a big deal a couple decades ago, but the same idea is illustrated in countless video games today. Afro Samurai, Ninja Gaiden, God of War, Force Unleashed, Wolverine, BlazBlue, Street Fighter, and Castle Crashers are just a few examples.

These are all great games, and they have plenty of other features to overcome their MKS. Yet there are still moments where you put up your defensive animation and watch attacks bounce off.

Recently I have completed Bayonetta. This action packed game has no block button. Dodging is the basic defensive mechanic. This makes combat fluid and for lack of a better term more realistic. Whenever I personally witness a fight blocking will only go so far.

Dodging and countering—using your opponent’s momentum against them—seem more effective and is generally more entertaining. Batman: Arkham Asylum is another game that ditches the block button. The Dark Knight can stun, dodge, or counter incoming blows. The lack of MKS blocking is one reason the combat feels fresh and original. I hope developers look at these two successful tittles and adopt their defensive mechanics.

I have yet to find a fighter that utilizes the no blocking mentality. I also rarely play anything besides Blazblue and Street Fighter IV. These two popular titles may have a character that specializes in counters, but there is no universal move.

Dead or Alive 3 is the only game I’ve played where each character has a basic counter, but there is also blocking. I think it would be interesting to have a fighter where blocking wasn’t an option. A counter mechanic would be the basic defensive ability. I can imagine skilled players countering each other for minutes at a time before someone finally slips up and gets beaten.

MKS is not a series issue for many games. God of War III has very few moments where you can simply hold down the block button. If you only hold down block in Ninja Gaiden II you will be destroyed. In Blazblue or Street Fighter blocking too much will bring on the throws. The characters in Castle Crashers are holding shields so their defensive prowess makes sense.

Yet in all of these a clever eye will notice MKS. The main character will stay put in that same animation to block everything from blades to bullets. I hope more games ditch the stiff blocking pose and follow the examples of Batman: AA and Bayonetta. To end on a cliché…sometimes less is more.

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David Rodriguez
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I think in the end it's what the design of the game calls for. Blocking in fighting games is something that won't completely go away just because they're design to keep you close to your opponent leaving little room for dodging (especially boxing games). Personally I think it's a stretch to compare Street Fighter with Castle Crashers or Bayonetta because 3rd person adventure games can get away with no blocking mechanics. Fighting games are set-up to be more restricted because you can't jump on a platform to recover or use an Item. I can't help but think of Power Stone 2 in that regard, that sounds like the kinda game you want. That game was awesome!

Not too long ago I played Dead or Alive 4 and I think you should try it. They pushed the combo system so far that a pro can juggle a person till they're dead leaving the only option to be to counter. There is still blocking but it's set up to be used sparingly to keep your distance, really is a strategic fighting game almost like Soul Caliber. I can keep going but in short, I agree with you but as far as fighting games go blocking will most likely be around so long as proximity is tight.

Corey Holcomb-Hockin
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Many western action games do have dull combat compared to Japanese games that are more influenced by fighting games. So I pretty much agree with this article. Its about having dynamic interesting choices. Blocking is just part of it. :|

Michael Khuc
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Blocking is essential to fighters because it's a safe option. Batman Arkham Asylum DOES have blocking, in a sense. Batman just flips around on the screen, and is usually safe the entire time, he's arguably more safe than any fighter where you're prone to grabs.

That said, blocking is also the lowest risk option. Let's say Geese Howard is fighting Sagat in the game CVS2. Geese is starting to invade Sagat's space, so Sagat throws a fierce punch at Geese, and Geese reacts by blocking it. Both characters are doing the safest option. Now let's try something unsafe... Did you know that Geese can actually run UNDER Sagat's fierce punch? If Geese did that and ultimately counted on Sagat to ONLY do Fierce Punch, then Geese would be able to get a free counter attack on Sagat, successfully preempting a low risk move. On the other hand, if Geese blocks, Sagat could just run in and grab Geese. Both of these are high risk moves.

Yes. Blocking is "cliche" to fighters, but it's also one of the first things a player would come to understand... (easy to play, difficult to master design philosophy). It's the most important move in a fighter's arsenal; it's the catch all. You can block almost anything! By being the safest option, it gives contrast to the higher risk options (grabbing, jumping in)... Street Fighter is currently a twitch poker game of risk probability, bluffing. If you made a fighter without blocking... If you made a fighter without the safest option, then you only have high risk, and the game of poker becomes rock paper scissors. And there's no depth in that.

Try Soul Calibur or Street Fighter 3rd Strike. Both give you the option of doing either a Parry or Guard Impact, where instead of blocking, you'd have to precisely time the impact of your opponent's attack and reverse it. The risk is always high, but so is the reward. You can grab a friend right now and try out your supposed solution, no blocking in favor of flashy dodges/counters, no blocking, only guard impacts and you'll see why it won't work. When players are not given the safest option, blocking, they resort to the next safest option. (fast attacks/ranged pokes) The better player isn't the one guard impacting all the time. Thus by taking out blocking, you turn what was once a tense close up game into a ranged, boring fighter.

Matthew Mouras
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Great article. I agree with the spirit of it - striving for dynamic action is a good thing. Also really liked Michael's thoughtful response.

"I can imagine skilled players countering each other for minutes at a time before someone finally slips up and gets beaten."

This is why I would always favor the 'best-guess twitch' play of SFIV as described so well above.

Joshua Sterns
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Thanks for all the comments. I just want to clarify that I am not suggesting the elimination of blocking especially in established franchises like Street Fighter.

What I suggested was a fighter centered around a defensive mechanic that is not blocking, or a game where blocking isn't the safest move. Counters, parries, dodges, etc. would be the primary defense. This would be an extremely difficult task for the fighter genre, and would probably be better suited for 3d action.

Hack n' Slash is a totally different scenario, but I have always felt the two genres had many similarities. I hope to see more games in the future mixing up the formula instead of copying others--cough Dante's cough. Batman and Bayonetta had excellent combat that was extremely fluid partially because they ditched the block button.

Oh and 3rd Strike is an awesome game.

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Sylvester O'Connor
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Well I have to say that the article is definitely intriguing. Here's my take on it. I agree with Joshua that it would be highly interesting to bring some diversity to the ability to fight. Of course, abandoning blocking altogether would not be beneficial. As David said, it depends on the type of game that is being created. But I do agree that finding alternatives to blocking would bring a different level of engagement to games.

Look for example at Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. There was no blocking button mapped to your controllers, but there was a stat that dictated the measures of blocking. You pretty much just focused on everything else. Another great example is Tekken. I know that in some of the latter installments, countering actually aided you better than just blocking. There were also heavy moves that could not be blocked.

As far as Hack'n'Slash games, they are very similar to fighting games. The greatest part about it is that now the technology is finally here to bring some real difference to formulas that would otherwise be impossible or extremely difficult to emulate. Batman was awesome. As much as I didn't like the game itself, Bayonetta's fast paced combat still was enthralling even more so than Devil May Cry. So hopefully, we will see that same kind of diversity with titles to come.

Chris Kaminari
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I will say that a hack n' slash game that has sorta ditched the whole blocking, was Devil May Cry.

There was no real block per say in those games, and you had to time your moves, and then get the hell out of there or you got fucked up as repercussion. DMC was pure hack n' slash at its finest, but did lack for those looking for a more in depth combat system. Even with the Royal Guard move implemented in DMC 3, it was still just not there all the way.

I am sorry, but I am a die hard Bayonetta fan. I think the combat system is both balanced and rewarding in its own form. Whereas DMC, like I said, you hafta time your hits, Bayonetta you can prolong your attack and then get the hell out of there a little easier then in DMC. I also loved the Moon of Kahlaa upgrade that allowed you to block if you truely just didnt stand a chance at allowed for both a offensive and defensive strategy, all in the split second of thought.

Growing up playing Soul Caliber and classic Street fighter, and who dosent love Super smash bros, blocking is part of a close range fighter, but for titles like Smash Bros., whereas there is a more expansive map to actually move around, blocking isnt there, or is and its just very very small, i.e. the shield (which I LOVE) in Smash Bros.

To me, this article is like comparing FPS to hack n' slash...your gonna have people on both sides that like this, or like that, and your never gonna have alot of people agree right on the same thing.

Also, @Bob the words of Shigeru Miyamoto, "I play video games because there not based on real life...if I wanted to put something in a video game I can do in real life, I would just do it in real life"...or something, I am paraphrasing =) hahaha...but seriously, video games are meant so that we can do things in them we could never do, or dream of doing, in real life. I would love to shoot a fireball out my palm haha=)

William Collins
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The first developer to successfully pull off a "blockless" fighting game will probably be the next reigning champ of fighters. The genre is starting to get a little stale imo. Ridding the game of blocking simulates the intensity of a real fight better as you are always on edge. The proximity argument wouldn't hold up to keeping the block function as long as you're always able to create distance between your opponent. Very forward thinking on your part, I love it!

This article also reminds me of one I read about eliminating (or restricting) save points in games. As game designers we want to keep people immersed with little break in the experience.