Dan Fornace’s 10 Tips for Making a Fighting Game

Me doing Rivals commentary with George at Smash n Splash

1. Fun before Balance

This is a concept that I’ve brought up in the past on Twitter, but it’s worth bringing up again as the first tip. I believe that a lot of game developers look at a fighting game as a difficult genre and the thought of balancing all the variables that goes into a fighting game seems like a monumental task.

The Dragon Ball FighterZ trailer blew people away at E3 2017.
Etalus is an example of a fun character that teeters on the edge of unbalanced. He is a heavy who excels at rushdown especially after laying down his ice. He retains some of the weaknesses of being a heavy archetype but not all of them.

2. Rollback is Required

Rollback netcode is a method of setting up your online play to predict frames in order to achieve a lower and stable input delay. The alternative is delay based netcode which simply increases input delay for worse connections. Rollback is the superior method especially when you give users control over their rollback values.

A rollback beta for Rivals of Aether launched in September 2021
Adam Carra helped us announce our Rollback Netcode beta back in April 2021.

3. Animation is the Foundation

A test animation from March 2019 for Forsburn for the sequel to Rivals of Aether.
You want to make sure your poses are distinct and help explain your character’s motion even if seen for the first time.
Clairen jump poses taken from my Silhouettes Medium Article

4. Readability over Beauty

By desaturating these two screenshots, we can see how much better Smash Bros (right) is at making its characters stand out than its competitors (left)
  1. Characters: Highest Contrast
  2. Projectiles and Character Articles (ex. Kragg Rock)
  3. Stage Elements with Collision (grounds, walls, platforms)
  4. Close Background Elements
  5. Far Background Elements: Lowest Contrast
Slow motion of Elliana getting hidden briefly by a consume effect while Zetterburn stays visible.

5. Responsive not Fast

Sometimes faster isn’t always better.
Even without an input buffer, Smash Bros Melee is an incredibly responsive game.

6. Create Spectacle Moments

Smash Bros Ultimate has a great kill effect on high knockback. The camera even zooms in if it’s last stock!
Cinematic Supers are a great place to show off your character’s unique style.

7. Characters need Personality

The Fighting Games that get media attention usually have existing characters either from previous games or other media. Shout outs to Under Night In-Birth for their original roster.
Creating a dating sim with your characters to add more depth to your world is probably not the best use of money though.

8. Reduce Menu Time

The most fun thing to do in a fighting game is to fight people. You want to make sure that when people are playing a session of your game, they spend as much time as possible fighting people. This means that your menus and load times need to be reduced as much as technically possible.

In Rivals of Aether, you don’t even have to leave the menus to start fighting! You can play test on character select and drop in CPUs or fight against players while the other players mess with their settings.

9. High Level Play should look cool

Evo Moment #37 is a legendary fighting game moment and it looks COOL.
The Melee section of this video takes a comically look at wavedashing and dash dancing is a meme.

10. Work with your Community

That’s me giving out medals for Rivals of Aether at Shine 2017. Look at these wonderful players!
Sometimes the feedback from your community isn’t super actionable.
Guilty Gear Strive came out in June 2021 and in my opinion is the most visually impressive fighting game to date. It even features rollback netcode!

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Dan Fornace

Dan Fornace

Game Director and Designer. Creator of Rivals of Aether. Worked on Killer Instinct (2013) and other games at Microsoft Studios.