Designer Notes Interview, Part 2

Almost two and a half years ago, Soren Johnson did a long, in-depth interview with me and he just released the second part of it (both parts linked below). Part 2 covers the beginnings of Fantasy Strike, Yomi strategy including what to do on the first turn, a little about Pandante’s updated version, Puzzle Strike’s emphasis on player interaction, Puzzle Strike and Codex’s solution to free-for-all games, and the toughest design problems in making Codex.

These are long and go into a lot of detail.

Designer Notes Episode 41, DAVID SIRLIN - PART 1

Designer Notes Episode 41, DAVID SIRLIN - PART 2

A Fighting Game First: Showing Frame Advantage

We just put a new feature in Fantasy Strike that’s notable because it’s never been done before. There are now visual effects on every hit that show if you recover first, or if your opponent does. The bigger the magnitude of the effects, the longer you (or your opponent) has to act before the other player.


The concept of who recovers first after a move hits or is blocked is called “frame advantage” in fighting games. The “frame” is the basic unit of time in fighting games, means a still frame of graphics shown every 1/60th of a second. So if you have +5 frame advantage after your move is blocked, that means you’ll be able to start your next move 5 frames (5/60ths of a second) before your opponent is able to start their next move. This is a very important concept in fighting games, but it's always been invisible…until now.

Expert fighting game players always want to know which moves are safe, meaning which moves have the attacker recovering first when the move is blocked. Fantasy Strike now shows that with the blue visual effects above.

Good players are also conscious of “frame traps.” That term means having frame advantage (blue effects in Fantasy Strike), then attacking again and interrupting your opponent’s move if they tried to do something. For example, imagine you have a move that has 10 frames of startup, and hits on the 11th frame. Suppose your opponent has a slightly faster move that has 9 frames of startup on hits on frame 10. If you both happened to do these moves at exactly the same time, the faster one (theirs) would hit and interrupt the other move (yours). You’d be sad about that. But now imagine that you did some other move that gets blocked and leaves you at +5 (you recover 5 frames sooner than they do). Immediately after that blocked move, if you do your 10-frame startup move, you’re getting a head-start of 5 frames here. Your opponent is stuck blocking for 5 frames, THEN starts their 9-frame move. They are too far behind here and now your attack will win, even though “usually” your attack is slower.

Frame advantage effects being visible all the time mean it’s more clear when frame traps are even happening. This doesn’t really take away anything because anyone who knows what they are doing already knew this. It means that beginners can play the “real game” sooner. It’s easier for them to get on the same page about what is even happening. Attacking when you are at frame disadvantage is risky, but sometimes still smart. Now it’s easier to KNOW you’re in that decision and make a conscious decision whether you want to attack then or not.

That said, this feature is not just for beginners. There’s a lot of nuance in the exact timing and spacing moves that can affect frame advantage, and experts can learn about that now. For example, Setsuki can press C then B to throw a low-to-the-ground kunai, but it could give her frame advantage or disadvantage depending on the spacing and timing. Also, she has a slide attack with a lot of active frames and it could give frame advantage or disadvantage depending on the timing and spacing. Grave’s projectile has frame disadvantage from close, and lots of frame advantage from far away. There’s a particular distance where it’s exactly +0 (both players are able to do their next move at exactly the same time). That’s something you can actually see on-screen now all the time.

I’m really excited about this feature and I find it useful from the beginner level all the way to the expert level. It was a technical challenge to correctly compute frame advantage in a lot of situations, and it was an aesthetic challenge to make the effects visible enough to see if you care about them, but not overly distracting if you don’t care. Try it out and see if it helps you understand Fantasy Strike more. It’s easier to wrap your mind around a game’s depth when you have the information you need to make gameplay-decisions.

Fantasy Strike is currently available on Steam, here.

Designer Notes Interview, Part 1

Almost two and a half years ago, Soren Johnson did a long, in-depth interview with me and he just released the first part of it. It covers most of my career, including work on Street Fighter HD Remix, Puzzle Fighter, almost Street Fighter 4, Yomi, Codex, and FantasyStrike. We talk a lot about game design too, such as the difference between a player's perspective and a designer's, as well as what "depth" does or doesn't mean. You will even learn what a "kara throw" is in fighting games, if you don't already know.

Designer Notes Episode 41, DAVID SIRLIN - PART 1

Loot Boxes asked me about loot boxes and published this article.

For anyone wanting more context, here is the complete set of questions they had about loot boxes in Fantasy Strike and beyond, and the answers I provided:

SRK Questions

  • Any idea when this feature will be implemented?
  • What can players expect to find? Costumes and cosmetics, right? Will there be more rare ones than others? Will there be things like victory poses, emotes, etc. ?
  • Anything that affects gameplay? Or any other effects such as XP boosts? For example, a boost for Arena Runs?
  • Will there be an option to use money to buy more loot boxes?
  • There's a lot of controversy lately in the games industry when it comes to the philosophy behind loot boxes. What are the thoughts on the ongoing discussions and will Fantasy Strike have any specific strategies to not alienate gamers?

Sirlin's Response

It’s unlikely that Fantasy Strike will have loot boxes simply because we now lack the budget to properly implement the feature and all the associated content. But to answer your questions…

Loot boxes were the plan since as long as I can remember. Our site went public in November 2016 and had all the same info then as it does now.

Loot boxes were to be ONLY cosmetic. Period. Costume colors, alternate animations for non-gameplay stuff like victory poses, etc. No gameplay-affecting things.

There has been controversy of loot boxes lately, yes. There is a wide range of implementation about what “loot box” means. I’d like to make it clear that at no point ever, not even for one millisecond, were we ever planning to implement any kind of pay-to-win thing. In my opinion, any supposedly competitive game that allows players to pay for power or grind for power is doing a great disservice to fairness in competition, which I think is an important value. I don’t play or support any such games. To me, THAT is what the real controversy should be, as it includes business models from big games out there, often not even using loot boxes, that ruin the concept of an even playfield in competition.

Back to loot boxes, we were planning (but may now not be able to implement) them in the vein of Overwatch. That is, cosmetic only, players would get them for free over time or could pay for me. It’s not like Overwatch invented this idea, but it’s a high profile example, and one I followed very closely. Blizzard also makes Heroes of the Storm, a game that sold cosmetics directly, often for $10 each (I’m aware they switched to the Overwatch system now). I wondered, at the time, what the player reaction would be to Overwatch’s different system. So I read everything I could from players. And I do mean quite literally that I read multiple thousands of comments directly from players. Every thread on every gaming site I could find, even some hundreds of pages long.

The reaction was quite clear. I found something like 3 posts that were upset, in total. And thousands all in favor. It really was that overwhelmingly one-sided. The reason is simple: in the Heroes of the Storm way, most players felt like they’d simply never own any of those cosmetics. In the Overwatch lootbox way, players get stuff for free. And they really really like that. Not only that, but they have the potential to get any (and all) of those cosmetics for free, meaning that there isn’t any class of items withheld from the boxes. So this is the spirit we were operating in, with our plans. The thing where we get to give away stuff for free and make a large number of people happy.

The positives don’t stop there. Another thing true of Overwatch’s system, which is like 100x more true for us than them, is that this ongoing revenue stream is something that raises all boats for the playerbase. Every player benefits because the ongoing revenue stream allows the developer to pay for continued development, more free features and free gameplay content for ALL players. In Overwatch’s case, it means you know that new characters, maps, and game modes can be released for free, and they have been. I think it’s incredible (in a good way!) that they were able to give all players access to all characters, even new characters, without having anyone pay for an expansion or pay for each new character. It’s a case where the theory really did work out in practice, in that everyone benefited by getting free gameplay-content in addition to the part where they got some free cosmetics too.

I said the above would be much more true for us than Blizzard. I don’t mean that Blizzard is somehow lying about the money involved. All I mean is that Overwatch in particular happened to be so wildly successful (half a billion dollars in revenue? Or a full billion by now?) that they could in theory decide to fund continued development anyway. Now, they might decide to really scale back on that if they didn’t have the ongoing revenue, but that’s a choice that would be up to them. It’s not a choice that’s up to us though. If we don’t have continued revenue from something like loot boxes, there is no way in the world we, as a struggling indie, can continue to pay for our team to develop new free gameplay for everyone. Like any normal company, we’d have to choose between no further content, or paid gameplay content.

I’ve mentioned the ways in which loot boxes are actually good for players (free cosmetics, and free gameplay stuff too for everyone) and developers (can afford to continue development of free stuff for everyone). The recent controversy of it wall was sparked by much worse business practices than this. The whole thing about $80 for a Star Wars game then you still have to grind 40 hours to get Darth Vader really made everyone mad, and rightfully so. And let’s imagine that this made lots of ongoing revenue for EA. Does anyone really believe that the result is going to be a bunch of free gameplay content like new characters and maps, the way Blizzard would do it? I don’t think so. That sounds very not-EA to me. I don’t have much specific insight into this situation with EA games, but my sense of it, and probably the sense of most gamers on the internet, is that EA really wants to stick it to you the maximum amount, period.

I think that even though both examples I’ve talked about are “loot boxes,” that there are really opposite mentalities behind them. One that is very much trying to help players. To give them some free cosmetics instead of none. And more importantly, to fund free gameplay content. Overwatch releases new characters that are completely free. As in, you instantly get them, no paying or grinding is involved. Can you imagine if Street Fighter did that? Or if Fantasy Strike did?

The opposite mentality is this kind of thing basically used for evil. I’ll ask again, “Can you imagine” if EA used the money raised from loot boxes to put out new free content like a new character? The notion is laughable--I’m actually laughing right now just thinking about it--because they already went as far as possible from making Darth Vader free. I think gamers really *get* that. They get that there’s something really cynical, cash-grabby, and directly contrary to their interests going on there. Yeah that’s probably true in EA’s case. But I think Overwatch has shown that a non-evil implementation is a huge boon for players. And that’s the type of thinking we had when considering loot boxes--the intention of using that revenue to fund further gameplay development that ALL our players would benefit from.

Adding a Friend in Street Fighter 5

I was thinking about how we'll handle cross-platform play in Fantasy Strike. The plan is that you'll add a friend to your in-game friends list, even if they are on another platform, then you can click on them there to directly challenge them.

I was looking into how Street Fighter 5 handles your in-game friends list. They went a different way with it. Below is a log of my experience.

Sirlin: I'd like to give everyone some unsolicited advice on setting up your SF5 friends list.

Sotek: ok sirlin, what is the advise

Sirlin: You might want to add someone as your friend in SF5. Or maybe you should put them on your favorites list? Or maybe those are the same thing? No, because favorites was in since launch but friends are new. So how should you start?

Sirlin: In the game, you go to CFN, then the submenu has choices: blacklist, Pending CFN Friend Requests, Favorites, Replays, Rival Search, Replay Search, and Ranking.

Sotek: CFN

Sirlin: Keep in mind you can't read those choices all at once. You can only read them one at a time as you scroll through a horizontal list.

Sotek: Capcom Friend Network?

Sirlin: Capcom Fighters Network

Sirlin: "Pending CFN Friend Requests" sounds like it has potential. Maybe you can add a friend there?

Sirlin: No.

Sotek: obv not, you accept requests there

zem: cfn is the united id service since there’s cross platform play

Sirlin: Favorites sounds like even more potential. Maybe you can add a favorite there. Or a friend?

Sirlin: No and no.

zem: i do remember seeing the friends list added and not finding the option to uh.. use it

Sirlin: Ok, "Rival Search" then?

Sotek: I enjoy this "advice"

Sirlin: You can choose from Refine, Search Using Fighter ID, or Search Using Steam ID. We're on the right track folks. Let's choose Search Using Fighter ID, type it in, hit enter, and see what we get.

Sirlin: A list of users! Including the one searched for and others with names containing that string too. Ok click on the one you want.

Sirlin: Oh sorry, mouse cannot be used anywhere in the menus. So press accept on the one you want, which is the B key, told to you no where. But you already had to know that to get anywhere near this far.

Sotek: great

Sirlin: Doing this brings up a "details menu" with exactly two items (not that detailed?). "View Fighter Profile" and "Add to Favorites"

Sirlin: damn it, I wanted to add them as a friend? Is that like not possible? It's really baiting to me add as Favorite. If you add as Favorite, then go to the Favorites menu and see them there, can you THEN add them as a friend?

Sirlin: No.

zem: lol

zem: will we ever find the option to add as friend?? i’m on the edge of my seat

Sirlin: The favorites thing was a decoy. What you really want to do in the "Details menu" of two items, is choose the OTHER item, which is "View Fighter Profile"

zem: ah.. should’ve known

Sirlin: Now we pause for a moment since the game crashed for the 2nd time in the last 10 minutes as I idle in the menus

zem: ahaha
Rexford: The mix-ups????
Sotek: ahahaha
Sotek: the shocking twists, lol

zem: that’s the game’s version of random super (or chaos super, my preferred term)

Sirlin: Ok, we are now "Viewing Fighter Profile". It's a screen full of junk. The most prominent thing taking up most of the screen is a radar graph of how much arm wrestling, vs olympic 1st 2nd 3rd vs heart that player has. With the radar graph completely empty and non-functional of course.

zem: when it builds enough meter (memory leaks) it can play super (crash at any point)

Sotek: arm wrestling vs podium vs heart

Sirlin: There are 5 tabs of info, navigable only by LB and RB (good luck finding those on keyboard)

Sirlin: Damn, which of these tabs should we go to?

Sirlin: None of them.

Sotek: !!

zem: yes, there’s a sub menu!

zem: of course!

Sirlin: In the corner, outside of all these stats, is small help text for "Y: Sub Menu"

Sirlin: Don't actually press the Y key though.

zem: lol

Sotek: wow I was just defeated

Sirlin: Press the keyboard key that corresponds to Y, which is actuallh H.

Sotek: oh ok
zem: was that an intentional typo because it works perfectly
Sotek: lol that typo
GRAG∶ The Translations Guy™: :100:

Sirlin: This brings up a sub menu that looks like the "Details List" except it's not called anything this time. You can: Compare, Add to Favorites, Send CFN Friend Request (!!), Add to Blacklist.

Sirlin: We did it folks, we found friend request.

Sotek: yay!

Sirlin: But what will this actually do once accepted? We already have a favorites list. So is there a favorites list AND a friends list??

Sirlin: Any guesses on that

Polari: I love the stair climbing ability stat

Polari: can't wait for it to be implemented for real [Editor's note: this chat line was written 22 months after the game launched.]

Sotek: I guess: there's a friends list somewhere separate from a favorites list

Sirlin: Before we discover the answer to that, what is a "favorite" anyway?

Sirlin: Someone in your favorites, you can stalk them and determine when they are online / offline, what they are doing online, and when they last played. (Hmm, seems like this should have required their permission??)

zem: my opinion is that favorites was what they implemented before they finished their (clearly well thought out) friends feature

Sirlin: that's so much stuff, maybe we don't need them as a friend? Oh, but what about actually playing against them. How do you challenge a friend to a match from the favorites list?

zem: i have a bonus twist to this story that’s ps4 only

Sirlin: er, challenge a person on your favorites. Not a "friend", because you aren't friends in this example.

Sirlin: The answer to that one is...

Sirlin: you can't.

Sirlin: You can't challenge people on your favorites list to a match. To play them you create a lobby somewhere and invite them. I won't detail that, I assume it's some other whole excruciating process though.

zem: my twist comes in during that process

zem: it is

Sirlin: If anything, that makes the friend feature more exciting though. Because you need to be able to really challenge people and favorites can't do it.

Sirlin: Ok, so you send the CFN Friend Request, they accept, and now you're friends! Awesome, lets' check that friends list.

Sirlin: Oh...there isn't a friends list. There's still just a favorites list? It adds them to that list, exactly like anyone else. The "friend request" just adds you to their favorites too, instead of only adding them to yours.

zem: loll

Sirlin: So you still can't challenge them directly.

Sirlin: The end.

Sotek: Surprise ending

zem: here's the ps4 twist: if you're streaming using the ps4 OS feature, there's no way to send or receive an invitation without halting the stream. opening up your favorites to invite someone to your lobby halts the stream. opening up your "system messages" to accept someone's invitation halts the stream. no other way to play with friends as far as i know

Polari: the friends list was dead all along

Sirlin: Yeah I noticed that. I guess they are trying to prevent streaming of everyone in your friends (er...favorites) list? Like a security thing?

zem: apparently! or your important messages, which include invitations from people who might know you, and system messages about getting fight money or downloading updates

zem: at least the buttons are labeled right though!

Sirlin: I was going to close SF5, but it just crashed for the 3rd time and closed for me.

Sirlin on Game Design, Ep 18: Fantasy Strike

Fantasy Strike is our new fighting game. We've just announced it and begun crowdfunding for it on Patreon. This podcast explains what Fantasy Strike is all about. We cover the high concept about making a fighting game more accessible from top to bottom than anything else we've seen, the specific game mechanics we chose to accomplish that, and the resulting dynamics of how it plays.

Because it's unusual to crowdfund a game through Patreon, we also explain why we're doing that and what the advantages are.

Hosts: David Sirlin, Richard "Leontes" Lopez, and Sean "MrGPhantome" Washington.

Sirlin on Game Design, Ep 17: Shipping Kickstarters On Time

Kickstarters projects are notoriously late. I give advice on how to ship your Kickstarter project on time. I've shipped 5 out of 5 Kickstarters on time, so it's time to share the best practices of how you can do that too. Learn about how complete your board game should be before you take it to Kickstarter, about the "magic word," and about shipping shipping shipping!

While most of the episode is about Kickstarters for board games, later in the episode we cover the extra challenges of doing a Kickstarter for a video game. And we reveal that we're going a different route with our Fantasy Strike video game, which is using Patreon for crowdfunding right now.

Hosts: David Sirlin and Richard "Leontes" Lopez