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Okizeme: Part 1 - Step Into The World of Tekken

Okizeme: Part 1 - Step Into The World of Tekken

Check out Parts Two,Three, and Four also!

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Okizeme: fighting game term for "ground game." When one opponent is on the ground and one is standing, the word refers to the tactics players use to either press their advantage or neutralize/counter their opponent’s advantage.

Hi, My Name is George

If I’d had more time to think about it, I probably wouldn’t have chosen this as my first article for UGDB. It came about because I’ve been starved for competition within my circle of friends / acquaintances and posted a half-joking challenge on my wall a short while ago, saying something along the lines of: "I hereby declare myself the uncontested Lord of Fighting Games! It’s lonely at the top! Can no-one give me sport, or am I doomed to never find worthy challengers?" (Paraphrase.)

I used to love pro wrestling, and some of the most colorful characters were the ones who would boast and basically "ask for it". (Not that he used to do this exactly, but my favorite character is the Ultimate Warrior.) Bragging creates screaming tension during competition when the "bad guy" (aka the "heel") starts to lose. "He was talking about how he was the man! He was saying how his legacy would live forever! And now we’re going to dethrone him! Get him!!!" (For proof, just look at how audiences see-saw on Justin Wong and Daigo Umehara. People are huge fans one year, then super critical of them the next. The fact is, like the wrestling fan who wants to jump into the ring and challenge Ho Kogan, you would get trashed in three seconds. You would get perfected.)

I have no problem playing the role of a "heel" with my buddies if it would encourage them to come and play some fighting games. We’d have a good old time. (But no, really, I’m actually pretty good at fighting games and nobody can beat me.)

In any case, it was in one of these wall posts when my cousin asked if I wanted to play some Tekken (even though my mains right now are Street Fighter 4 and Third Strike) "Aw man," I replied, "I just traded Tekken Tag Tournament 2 in a couple of weeks ago because I’ve barely touched it." I began explaining why. I said that Tekken isn’t bad, exactly – but the main reason I parted ways with it was because of this:

The gap between high level play and newcomers is way, way too wide.

I believe this to be a design flaw rather than a case of noobs versus t3h l337. I’d be happy to elaborate. Before I get to the details, though, I can imagine the fighting game enthusiasts (like myself) saying, "who is this clown? Who does he think he is, talking about what a fighting game should do to improve?"

My Tekken credentials

Let me start by assuring you that I love Tekken and have as deep history with it as anyone. If you’re not interested or don’t require proof, please feel free to skip to the next part where I get to the meat and potatoes of my argument.

I played the very first Tekken at my old buddy’s house when his dad bought him a PlayStation for Christmas, either in 1995 or 1996. I would have been 10 or 11. We had a great time, even though the game itself was pretty bad by objective standards. I thought Paul Phoenix was awesome and spammed the Power Punch like only noob could. Tekken 2 was an improvement and we played the heck out of it, but it was Tekken 3 which made me take fighting games seriously. By then I had a PlayStation of by own and absorbed that game, reading up on character bios, memorizing move sets... it was awesome. I thought Ogre was really scary, and in hindsight it was a brilliant and gutsy move to actually have a boss capable of killing the roster from past games. That makes him actually dangerous instead of a monster who crawled out of a hole and goes "rawr". They did so much right with Tekken 3.

P.S. Extra points for Tekken Bowling and Tekken Force. They were lame and awesome and we loved it.

Now, Tekken Tag Tournament was the game that made us take fighting games seriously. My circle of fighting game buddies grew, the PlayStation 2 had just come out, and TTT was how we threw down. (PS2 discs were blue on the bottom back then – the real Blu-rays.) It was the first game I deliberately invested hours practicing. We were rivals, and I was on a mission to be the top player in our pool. I was firmly stuck as the #2 player, constantly clawing against our #1 player who played a solid Jin against my constantly shifting mains. (I wanted to play Jin too but I wasn’t going to copy him.)

"Hworang?" My buddy exclaimed one day. "More like Hwa-wrong! Hwa-Lose!"

But the real fun started when we would take it to the arcades. That’s where we would prove whether we were big fish in a small pond, or sharks in the ocean. We did pretty well considering our local competition; I’d say our group won about 75% of our matches. (Or maybe this is a big fish story after all. I can say for a fact our win average went down against Koreans. Fun Fact: Later in life, I was declared an honorary Korean... though I can’t provide documentation so maybe I shouldn’t brag about being one of the first and only Greek American Koreans who could also kind-of speak Japanese and play a mean Hworang.)

One of the lost charms of the arcade is almost getting into fist fights. One time, I got into it with some jerk because he wouldn’t let me tag my partner in. I thought he was being unfair and exploiting a glitch or something. (I hadn’t known about cooldown animations back then.) I didn’t know I could have done a running 1 or running 1+2 to tag in more safely. "That’s so cheap! Just let me tag in!" I screamed at a complete stranger, who was at least four years older than me and probably owned a car.

"What! What! What! What!" Was his astute response, not letting me get a word in. His cohorts supported his views on the discussion to a similar effect. My friends had to step in and cool me off. I’m not a big guy. If I were a dog, I’d be a Beagle. He was a Pit Bull. He probably would have beaten me up pretty bad – but whatever. He was a jerk. I’m getting upset just thinking about it and I’ll probably take it out on someone in SSF4 when I’m done writing this.

My friends and I studied hard when Tekken 4 came out. That was when frame data was becoming available online, and when carefully selecting "Random" characters might let you pick Hooded Jin (whose new moveset actually kind of sucked). Alas, it was around this that arcades started closing down.

Tekken 5 was pretty nice. It cleaned up the "looseness" from 4 and felt like a nice upgrade. Unfortunately, it was released in the US during the vacuum between the death of arcades and the birth of console online multiplayer. The K.O. for me was that my old Tekken group had dispersed by that time, so I essentially was left playing arcade mode which, of course, loses its novelty. Without a healthy forum for diverse competition, a fighting game can’t really survive. I played it solo for as long as I could, but it wasn’t the same.

Tekken 6, for all the things it did right, Ignoring the initial trouble with netcode (if I recall it was super laggy), it was a solid addition to the series but I daresay felt a bit too "safe". No major, fundamental changes were made in T6 – only additions. More characters, more moves, more damage, more juggling, more character customization, more everything. In the end, It felt like they just turned the volume up. Please don’t get me wrong! It was a good game. Well made and all that.

It was Tekken 6 which made me realize the skill gap: the local arcades were indeed a small pool, because it turned out there were unbelievably skilled players out there. Plenty of neophytes, too, but not very many people in between who knew what they’re doing, but didn’t practice religiously. (We could call these "advanced" players, one notch up from "intermediate".) After all my years of experience and practice I still found myself at the losing end of too many matches and realized that, if my relatively skill level wasn’t enough to compete, the series will not be able to get new players. The only way to save Tekken would be to even the playing field. I traded it in with sadness, hoping the next entry would bridge the gap.

That brings us up to date. I bought Tekken Tag Tournament 2 on day one (something I almost never do) and played a fair amount, but the same issues from T6 tugged at my heart. I shelved it with a sigh and couldn’t muster the spirit to play it. Now, my tired eyes look at Tekken X Street Fighter in hopes that it will be the game to refresh my 3D fighting spirit.

The state of the Mishima Zaibatsu

Much as it was a step forward, the combat in Tekken 4 felt a bit "loose" and the roster was underwhelming. Nonetheless, it was an interesting experiment and was polished for Tekken 5. The problem was, Tekken fans (myself included) sort of threw a fit after all of 4’s changes, and the developers probably (and understandably) got spooked.

Gamers are sometimes irrationally resistant to change. When a game is getting stale and the designers change too much, people throw tantrums. The perfect example is what happed to DmC, when they "redesigned" Dante. Rather than seeing this game as an apocryphal reimagining, it seems that a minority of fans got together with bullhorns and blitzed the internet, absolutely freaking out as loud as possible*. (If only people would use their passion to protest against things which actually matter.) Please don’t misunderstand: I loved and played the heck out of DMC3. But DMC4 was also kind of "safe", and let’s not forget it came out during a time when Capcom was losing a lot of its most talented designers like Hideki Kamiya and Shinji Mikami. (Who now make games at Platinum, which is why Platinum games are lots of fun... though they still have lame stories.)

*Before anyone accuses me of anything, let me state flatly that I haven’t played DmC yet. I’m not a fanboy on either side of the debate. I’ll buy it when its price suits my budget and I’m sure it will be fine. I will admit, however, that being a child of the 90’s culture I found the original Dante redesign to be kind of cool. (Not the post-controversy underwear model young punk Dante - the ugly bruised-face "get out of my life, dad!" young Dante. Fascinating.) It’s okay for there to be single-shot changes to your favorite character sometimes, like two actors playing the same character. I don’t know if someone lied to us, but it’s okay to enjoy both! It’s all right. Both Heith Ledger and Jack Nicholson made good Jokers. They don’t cancel each other out. As the consumers, we get to enjoy both. DMC3 is still a great game and always will be. If you want more like it, check out Platinum Games.

Whenever I see people complaining about necessary changes to their favorite games, I think of Thao from Gran Torino who is freaking out in Clint Eastwood’s basement behind a barred door. "Walt! Walt! Where are you going?! You let me out right now! You let me out or I’ll kill you when I get out! WAIT! DON’T GO! Noooo! NOOOOO!!!!" I’d link the scene, but it contains some spicy language which may be misinterpreted out of context. (Good movie, though.)

The simple truth is this: a design philosophy that’s too scared of updating leads to stagnation. (Too much change, too frequently, can be dangerous too.) As far as I can tell after having my hand on the pulse of the fighting game community for years, Tekken has never really surpassed Tekken Tag Tournament 1 (TTT) in terms of popularity, ease of welcoming new players, or general fun. I say that as a fan! I hope at least that’s been proven by now. I also hope it’s evident that I’m not some ignorant scrub trying to write an article about how to improve something he knows nothing about. Since before the collapse of arcades in the 2000’s, I’ve still been studying fighting games quite passionately, and Tekken was my main for a long time before embracing 2D systems as well. During the mid 2000’s I was able to challenge a huge pool of players at the Port Authority arcade in New York City. It was there that I almost got stabbed for beating someone, almost punched a full grown man for beating me (though I’m actually a very gentle person and wouldn’t actually punch someone over Capcom VS SNK 2, but if you’re old enough to have been to an arcade you know what I’m talking about.) It was also at that arcade where I got owned so badly in Marvel vs Capcom 2 I couldn’t play it again for years. (In fact, that may still be the worst smackdown I’ve ever received in a fighting game. Turns out there are two versions of MvC2, and I didn’t know Storm/Magneto/Sentinel existed until that unhappy day.)

In the next article I’ll suggest a few ways to balance and improve the Tekken series, as well as ways to expand their audience. Tekken is great, and I want more people to enjoy it. I am a fan, and I’ll probably continue buying every game in the series. (Whether I’ll actually play them is another matter.) May there never be a shortage of Eddy players mashing 3 and 4, so that I may counter with backdashes followed by a front flip attack like Heihachi’s 4~3 or Paul’s f, f+4.

Stay tuned, as they say, for part two. If you practice yomi, you may be able to read where I’m going with this.

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In addition to his articles and illustrations for UGDB, George Alexopoulos writes and draws comics. You can find more of his work at StudioNJ.com

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