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The two-button fighting game: how Divekick is much more complex than you think

The two-button fighting game: how Divekick is much more complex than you think

Divekick is a two button fighting game coming to the PS3 and Vita. You don’t need to move your character with a joystick, and you have one attack: The divekick. The first player to land the attack wins. It sounds like a joke, and it began its life as a demo that was meant to be played at one event, but the game earned a huge amount of buzz at PAX East. Divekick is also filled with jokes about the fighting game community, providing a well-intentioned satire of the scene.

It may seem like a simple game, to be played by button mashers, but Divekick was created by Adam Heart, the editor-in-chief at Shoryuken.com, who also works as a producer / designer at Iron Galaxy Studios. You might recognize the name of that studio from Marvel vs. Capcom Origins, or Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online. Heart knows fighting games, and after sitting down to talk Divekick during a local tournament he explained its roots in the fighting game world.

In fact, he said Divekick is reminiscent of the Street Fighter series.

A game about spacing

Street Fighter is a game, if you get past all the tedious learning of combos and things, that’s all about spacing. For me to space you, I need to know what your effective range of attack is, and what your effective angles of attack are,” Heart explained. “Then I can get to a space where I feel my character’s ranges and angles are superior to yours in that space.”

The idea of spacing in fighting games, and the skill needed to control the movement of your opponent, are two of the things that separate high level play from players who don’t understand what’s going on. The use of space is the most important part of winning in Divekick.

“People just see themselves getting killed, they don’t see what led up to it. And that happens in fighting games, you get killed and you know that guy beat you but you don’t really understand why,” Heart told me, mimicking the movement of the characters with his hands. “You don’t go back a few steps and say that guy beat you because he cornered you. But why are you in the corner? How did you get there? Let’s trace it back. Divekick exposes all that, and makes it easier to see.”

It’s a neat trick. Divekick strips away the need to learn combos, the moves for each character, and other aspects of fighting games that can often keep people from joining the community. What’s left is the meta-game, which consists of trying to get into position to deliver a killing blow, and the efficient use of space during each match.

Strip away the mechanic, skills, and years of practice needed to play fighting games competitively, and players can begin to see the beauty and complexity of how space is used.

The power of position

The importance of spacing in fighting games is an interesting topic, and Game Developer editor Patrick Miller recently wrote a detailed blog post on the topic.

“Your characters’ respective position in space is fully observable, but the implications that has on your options are not always so explicit,” he explained. “When you’re in the corner, you can’t retreat backwards. Retreating backwards is the equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card, or perhaps folding before the flop in poker; you see a disadvantageous situation in front of you, and you choose to sacrifice some screen space in exchange for a chance to escape the situation and otherwise reset the terms of engagement.”

This is basic strategy, but once you really absorb the importance and power of position and spacing, you've taken your first step to grasping fighting games.

“If we start thinking of our screen positioning as a resource… it might change the way we play our game,” Miller wrote. “For starters, we can start thinking of whether we have won or lost an exchange not just in terms of resources spent and damage dealt, but also our respective positioning gain or loss at the end of the exchange.”

Divekick is a master class in these strategies. You don't have to spend any of your brain cycles remembering complex moves, you can sit back and focus on your spacing. Heart talked about the difference between players who understand spacing, and those who are just learning how to play the game.

“People don’t understand how bad the yellow button is. This is the dive button, it’s a really bad button,” Heart told me. The dive button causes your character to jump straight up, and you'll continue to jump if you don't hit the kick button to move forward. “If you press the dive button, and you’ve leapt to the top of your jump, you’ve probably already lost the match, whether you kick or not… If you’ve reached the peak of your jump arc, it’s too late for you. I’m already in the right position to kill you.” The better players stay low to the ground, and only jump when they're in position to do something with the attack.

I mentioned that I tended to jump as high as possible as a way to intimidate my opponent; they saw me in the air and jumped backwards to escape. I was gaining space. Heart said that this tactic only works against low-level players, or those still learning the systems. Against anyone else? “Suicide,” Heart said.

Bringing in a new audience

Divekick enjoyed huge crowds at PAX East, although some people seemed to think of the game as a joke. Heart disagrees, and points out that the skills learned in Divekick are applicable to more complex fighting games. This welcoming attitude and ease of play have rubbed some fighting game fans the wrong way, and Heart admits that the game has been polarizing.

Heart doesn't see the issue. “In the grand scheme of things, there is no entry-level fighting game software. It doesn’t exist,” he said. “Having entry-level fighting game software, even if you don’t want to play, doesn’t hurt anything. It only helps. It’s going to bring more people into an understanding of what you love.”

He didn't design Divekick to be a way to get people into fighting games, but it's a welcome side-effect of the game's newfound popularity and buzz. He brings up the fact that the first Guitar Hero game led him to become an actual guitarist.

“I’m hoping that because Divekick exists, people who wouldn’t be fighting game fans, become fighting game fans,” he said.