Let's get this out of the way first... fighting... games... are.... HARD! Seriously, they are super super hard. Any game that pits you against human opponents that are constantly adapting and refining their skills is extremely difficult. Fighting games take this level of refinement of skills, in my opinion, to a height often not reached by many other genres. It is a rough competitive world, bad manners aside, that quickly breaks down the sanity of its players.
So why would one create in this environment? Why spend hours in a character editor designing an alternative costume, cosplay, or original character that more than likely only you will appreciate? Why create something you are extremely proud of that will eventually fall before your own eyes as you encounter the inevitable loss that is found in this genre?
A valid question!
Despite playing SC since its inception, I must admit, I started creation as a mechanism to cope with loss in SOULCALIBUR IV. This was the first fighting game that I started taking "serious" enough to enter the occasional competition online, lab and train, and win and lose. It was hard, experiencing the constant loss coupled with the grind of fighting games in which despite efforts in the grind it seemed as if I was not improving. Creation was a mental break for me. It was something tangible within a fighting game that I could improve on and visually see the results! It helped me cope with the reality of losing.
Creation was something tangible within a fighting game that I could improve on and visually see the results!
As I evolved as a player and as the SOULCALIBUR sequels racked up, my love of creation expanded, it didn't matter how much better I got at the fighting aspect of the game, I still had to cope with loss. Such is the reality of fighting games! And creation was one of the foundations in my base that supported me all along the way.
And across the journey, as I have matured as not only a creator but a fighting game player, my thoughts on the genre and creation within have evolved dramatically. As I stand now, I view creation not only as an outlet for loss, but as well a form of communication and engagement with your opponent.
I view creation not only as an outlet for loss, but as well a form of communication and engagement with your opponent.
I once had someone explain to me how PvP fighting games are a form of communication between opposing players. It is a conversation communicated in neutral, communicated in reads, communicated in stylistic playstyle, and communicated in online manners for some examples. Different characters' toolsets communicate a message by the nature of their design, for example Ivy's toolset communicates "Get away from me. You aren't worthy to touch me!" whereas Xianghua's playstyle communicates "I'm here to have fun and outsmart you." And then players personal utilization of these move sets add further clarity to what is being communicated, for example with rush down focused players communicating "Look at me, look at the cool things I can do." and more patient players communicating "Try your best, but I will find an opening and exploit it."
Now think of this form of communication in combination:
A rush down Ivy's playstyle communicates something like "Get away from me, you aren't worthy to touch me, look at how majestic and skilled I am in comparison to you."
A patient Xianghua playstyle communicates something like "I'm here to have fun and outsmart you, and no matter what you do I'll trick you into exposing your openings and take advantage."
And the details of communication, including the level of specificity into which it goes, just gets deeper and deeper dependent on the individual battle, how neutral is used, the reads that are happening, and the manners of the players. This communication gets to a depth that we don't tangibly put into words as a player, instead it is something we feel, and creation is another layer of this communication!
This communication gets to a depth that we don't tangibly put into words as a player, instead it is something we feel, and creation is another layer of this communication!
But what do creations communicate to other players? Let's look at a common example that I am sure many of us have experienced online: giant phallic creations!
Random Lizard "Hot Dog"
I'm sure we've all encountered creations of the above nature online in SOULCALIBUR VI at least once. When the game launched, they were actually quite common. And I personally found it repugnant and took great pleasure in destroying these creations via the power of lethal hits (such a satisfying feature)!
What does the image above communicate to you? To me, it communicates the level of seriousness in which the opponent holds the game and their sense of humour... at the very least! In an open ranked match with strangers, this creation would communicate to me "I am just here to have fun and I don't really care if other people don't enjoy it." Couple that with the toolset and playstyle and you have a pretty clear monologue of communication from your opponent before the intricacies of neutral come into play! This is a simple, primal even, example of creation being a form of communication.
This is a simple, primal even, example of creation being a form of communication.
In creation I strive for more, which isn't saying much based on the above example, by desiring my creations to tell a narrative that buffs the interactions on screen between the players in combat. But, I consider myself a slight anomaly in the world of fighting game players. For one, the majority of competitive players don't focus on creation and this is mirrored by the majority of creation buffs not competing. And for two, if you know a bit about me, you'll know I only create alternative costumes for characters. And there are a few reasons for this second point:
I Like to Use My Costumes: Outside of creation, I treat this game competitively, creating Original Characters, as cool as it is, impacts game balance by changing the hit boxes and range of characters. This is why Original Characters are not allowed in tournaments. I truly love to see the OCs players create and the passion behind them, but due to my competitive nature I will never utilize them. Simply put, I always want to be able to use my creations in combat!
I Don't Enjoy Creative Restriction: Despite me appreciating them, cosplay creations are genuinely too hard and restrictive for me! Many people feel that creating cosplays is an easy task, I would disagree wholeheartedly. The ideation of a cosplay is easy, as you visually have a template, but creating quality cosplays require extreme and restrictive technical detail to create accurate representations. For me, designing cosplay creations is simply both too difficult and extremely boring for me.
I am a Narrative Influenced Player: I define myself as, and find joy in being, a narrative player. Which to me means, my enjoyment of the game comes from playing in a manner that accentuates the story elements in the game. Simply, I attempt to represent through play how I feel the character would act in reality.
My enjoyment of the game comes from playing in a manner that accentuates the story elements in the game. Simply, I attempt to represent through play how I feel the character would act in reality.
For an example of what I mean, as Hilde is my main, if I was fighting an opponent who was constantly not blocking a single move, I would not keep doing that move, as I view that Hilde would find taking advantage of an opponents weakness dishonourable.
This is definitely not how most people play fighting games, or even how people recommend you should play fighting games, but it is where I find enjoyment within the genre.
Creation is the cherry on top of my narrative play style! It allows me to expand on the narrative built into the game. Creation for me is communicating a message to my opponent that builds on the SOULCALIBUR world through its consistent thematic impact! Creation expands on the world of SOULCALIBUR!
Creation for me is communicating a message to my opponent that builds on the SOULCALIBUR world through its consistent thematic impact!
With this philosophy in mind, my objective is to never 'play dress up'. Instead it is to create an accurate view of a character in a certain state. Paraphrased, I don't want to design something that equates to 'X character as this.', instead I want to answer the question 'What if this character X?' This is an important distinction that I feel leads to the fundamental difference between designing a 'character in a costume', and designing a 'character alternative costume'.
I don't want to design something that equates to 'X character as this.', instead I want to answer the question 'What if this character X?'
Let's look at some examples of my work to highlight what I mean.
The above six costumes each had a different 'What if?' question when designing them:
Betrayed Fugitive - What if their was an assassination attempt on Hilde?
Diligent Monarch - What if Hilde had to administer a Wolfkronian parliment?
Vengeful Spirit -What if Hilde was killed defending Wolfkrone with deep regret in her soul?
Disguised Noble - What if Hilde had to hide her identity in a noble circle?
Pwetty Pwincess - What if Hilde was a bratty royal child?
Victorian Debutante - What if Hilde was out on the town going about her business?
Without going into the specificities on these individual creations, ask yourself if you encountered these creations online and you didn't know the name of them, what would they say narratively to you when coupled with your knowledge of the character? To me I see a noble warrior standing resolute in the face of deception struggling to the very end, I see a refined disguised monarch with cunning and purpose, and I see a fashionable and elegant leader going about her important business.
Let's return to the example I referenced before, let's say I play an Ivy, with a patient play style, dressed like the disguised noble creation above. What does this communicate to you? To me it is something like "Get away from me, you aren't worthy to touch me, I will avoid your grubby blows and make you suffer, all while ensuring I make it to the gala on time unscathed." This is a small narrative, a small story, being transmitted to your opponent. And the depth expands with every hit received "You are a worthy opponent.", with every dodge "Your skill is unexpected.", with every punish "Argh! My clothes, the night is ruined." , a story is being written through this combative interplay.
Creations through design alone communicate a story, or rather, a message to your opponent. Sure, it may not communicate a clear message all the time, but a good design always brings an idea across at least. And this is just an additional element of the communication that happens between players in fighting games as demonstrated above. A narrative player like me relishes in this, win or lose, if I play with a thematically inspired alternative costume stemming from the 'What if?' I am contributing to the narrative that exists in the SOULCALIBUR universe.
If I play with a thematically inspired alternative costume stemming from the 'What if?' I am contributing to the narrative that exists in the universe.
And even if we disregard the possibility that a message is being effectively communicated to your opponent, for example my opponent may disable viewing other player costumes, I am still communicating it to myself. I am still building a story, an experience, that I can take pride in via the combination of costume and the communication of combat. Win or lose!
This is why I value creation and am willing to create in a hostile and competitive environment in which my pride and joys find both victory and loss. Because in both there is a narrative being told that I find value in, one that I firmly believe most of us understand at least subconsciously.
Because in both there is a narrative being told that I find value in, one that I firmly believe most of us understand at least subconsciously.
So I encourage you creator friends, don't underestimate the narrative that your creations contribute to and perhaps attempt to build your creations starting with the 'What if?' question. You may be surprised in the different direction this takes you. Orrrrrrrrr, of course, you could just stick to creating 'random lizard hot dogs'... just be aware of the story you're telling.