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Friday, November 25, 2022

Masahiro Sakurai's Super Smash Bros. Melee Game Concepts Video Was Disappointing

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Especially when compared to his Super Smash Bros. Game Concepts video.

Even a short-term KoopaTV reader can remember me asking at the start of September (over two months ago) asking if I should write articles about the concepts discussed on Masahiro Sakurai's YouTube channel, Masahiro Sakurai on Creating Games. You said yes. And then I never followed up (even though I've watched every video on his channel, and he's talked about many interesting topics thus far). ...Until now!

My issue was that after that first video about Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64, I had high expectations for the discussion topics that Masahiro Sakurai would bring for Super Smash Bros. Melee. Of course, the Super Smash Bros. video is twice as long as the Super Smash Bros. Melee video, so just by how short the Melee video is, there's bound to be disappointment. It turns out the video wasn't just being very to-the-point, but it omitted a lot of information.

Let me explain why!

In the Super Smash Bros. video, Masahiro Sakurai explained and even showed never-before-seen footage of Dragon King: The Fighting Game, the generic prototype of Super Smash Bros.. One of the biggest development aspects of Super Smash Bros. that Masahiro Sakurai wanted to pursue was how combos work. In traditional fighting games, combos are a rather one-sided affair. The person executing the combo has all of the control over the outcome, and then it's an execution skill check. The victim of the combo doesn't have options to get out of that. That's how Sakurai came up with the damage % system—your knockback would be dependent on your own % and on your opponent's move, and instead of the main game mode being stamina-based, it'd be based on being knocked out of the stage.

Masahiro Sakurai Creating Games Super Smash Bros game concept arcade player couldn't move get combo
If you're not familiar with it already, this feeling describes the whole Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 64 metagame.
Defence is very weak.

There are several problems that Sakurai glossed over, however. Professional Super Smash Bros. players have memorised what their opponent's percentage ranges have to be for their attacks to still combo reliably. Combos that work at 0% won't work at 30%, but some other combo might work at 30% that wouldn't work at 0%. High-level players know what those are, while lower-level players won't know—you still run into the same issue that Sakurai wanted to avoid. Even worse, in the first Super Smash Bros., directional influence didn't exist yet, so your percent was very deterministic. You couldn't actually escape combos in Super Smash Bros. and the defender is often unable to move for a long time after being hit, and many combos were touch-of-death style at high-level play. Super Smash Bros., in other words, lacked the push-and-pull feeling that Sakurai wanted in the game. He basically failed in his design philosophy.

For the Super Smash Bros. Melee video, I was hoping Sakurai would acknowledge that, and also explain his design philosophy on the physics and making things a lot faster. Instead, we got a shorter video where his presented design philosophy was “do Super Smash Bros. but bigger.” He talked a lot about the graphics and orchestral music and the increased number of features and scope of content. And those things are cool, sure. The music is great. I love Fountain of Dreams. And we got the Melee-equivalent of seeing that Dragon King: The Fighting Game prototype, which is a snippet of the opening cutscene director's notes. But he spent a third of the Super Smash Bros. Melee video talking about the polygons and textures of the first Super Smash Bros. game!

He didn't talk about the gameplay changes. That's very uncharacteristic of the other Game Concepts series, where Sakurai goes deep into gameplay explanations and philosophies. I'll do it for him: directional influence (otherwise known as DI...or launch shuffling, as Nintendo officially calls it) is when you're getting hit and just as you're about to be launched, you move your control stick in a direction. The direction your stick is held in influences your launch trajectory, and there is a lot of push-and-pull between the attacker and the defender when DI is involved. Now instead of helplessly getting stuck in a combo, you can DI away from your opponent and ruin their follow-up attack by being launched too far away so their next attack can't reach you. Additionally, since you can choose what direction to DI in, you can change your DI to make it so if your opponent EXPECTS you to DI up and away from them, but you actually DI somewhere else, you can mix up their expectation and timing and get out of their expected combo. (And you also can use it to survive for longer.) DI makes the very act of getting hit a mini rock-paper-scissors match, which I feel is much closer to what Sakurai wanted to do when people get in combos in fighting games, according to his Super Smash Bros. Game Concepts video. This dynamic doesn't exist in the first game but is extremely important in Super Smash Bros. Melee and its sequels.

Does... Does Sakurai not know? You know, how important that addition was to the gameplay, and how it fits his own philosophies in a way the original skipped doing? That, and several other gameplay things in Super Smash Bros. Melee that he could've talked about but didn't. Did Sakurai not find any of those gameplay innovations important enough to mention, or did he not think any of them could serve as inspiration to budding game designers? Melee introduced several features that let the player feel more in control over the movement of their character, and it has a good game feel that should be worth discussing. I'm not even necessarily asking him to acknowledge the still-going competitive community around Super Smash Bros. Melee, unless he feels like he doesn't want to give a nod to them and talking anything related to gameplay would be doing that.

When Sakurai opened his channel and said he'd make a Game Concepts video on each of the games he's worked on, the one I was looking forward to the most was for Super Smash Bros. Melee. He dropped the ball on that. Fortunately, he has another chance with the one I'm looking forward to the second-most: Kirby Air Ride!

There are tons of people who commented on Sakurai's Super Smash Bros. Melee video with great praise for the video. It's almost like they watched a completely separate video than Ludwig did, or played a very different game than he did. Let Ludwig know in the comments section what you thought of Sakurai's video, and of Ludwig's commentary on it.

The next video Sakurai produced that Ludwig wrote about was the Potential of One Button video.
Here is the Kirby Air Ride video!
While the Super Smash Bros. Melee video didn't discuss its gameplay, the Super Smash Bros. Brawl video did.


  1. Launch shuffling, hehe. I do wonder how much influence Nintendo have over these videos but regardless of that every video can't be a winner.

    I think something like Launch Shuffling is important enough that it could garner it's own separate video. Once Sakuri gets through all of the games he's worked on once, I don't think it's too unreasonable to think that he may return to the previous games and talk about them some more.

    1. Directional influence isn't the only additional defensive option that was added to Melee that adds to the push-and-pull and creates 50-50s: Starting in Melee you can now spot-dodge and more importantly, air-dodge; you can also now mash/escape out of grabs. (In 64, grabs were inescapable and you'd eventually just automatically throw after some time.)

      Sakurai could go back and make extra videos on things, yeah. And I hope he does!


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