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Thoughts on NRS balance and design philosophy

Wrenchfarm

Lexcorp Proprietary Technologies
I was thinking about the modern NRS games (MK9-11, IJ1 & 2) recently and some commonalities between them. Mainly, I'm wondering why they are balanced and designed the way they are.

I know this is always a divisive topic, so let me be straight up front - I have made peace with how these games are. I have played and enjoyed every single one of them and I am not looking for some kind of bash session on the titles. I don't even really care if NRS ever changes their design style. I'm gonna play the next game they put out regardless.

But I am genuinely curious why NRS designs the games like they do and I want to know what others think. So I'm gonna share my thoughts and I'm interested to hear other perspective and speculation.

These are intentional decisions - First of all, I think NRS absolutely makes these decisions intentionally. They are an experienced studio and have a number of former pro-FG players on staff in a number of different positions. I don't think it somehow escapes their notice that certain characters have better tools than others or that lopsided matches exist in their games. Whenever I see people bash on the devs like they somehow don't understand the game they've made I bristle. But the flip side of is because it's intentional there has to be some kind of thought process behind it, and that process (unfortunately) isn't always clear when you're playing the finished product.

Here are some of the things I notice across titles :

Feast and Famine characters - Across each title there are always a few characters that can seemingly do everything and a few who seem to have very specific and niche playstyles that often have less reward than other characters that can do the same thing better and more. I look at launch MK11 and compare a character like Kotal against Lui Kang. Our own @Evil Canadian made a video about Kotal and his various struggles (which to be fair several of which were eventually patched) that breaks them down in detail and paints a pretty damning picture of a character that feels half-baked. Useless buttons, useless specials, low damage, only 1 viable variation at launch (and even it had problems), etc etc (and Kotal was far from alone with these kind of issues). Then you have Lui Kang who can zone, mix, enjoys baked in KB bait, can convert any hit into decent damage and is easier to use to boot. And this is far from limited to this example or MK11. Think about IJ and characters like Superman who have the same quality - great buttons, great zoning, huge damage, and a very simple gameplan vs someone like Hawkwoman who has to work twice has hard to do half as much.

Most other fighting games try to make characters have more clearly defined roles, strengths and weaknesses, but NRS will often just give some characters a smorgasbord of tools while leaving others out in the cold to starve. Why? With Superman I suppose it's baked into the character, and Lui is the protagonist so maybe that factors in, but then you have character like Geras and Collector who are both new and one is a wrecking ball while the other is a soggy pool noodle. What do we think is the logic here? Just leaving room for the low tier heroes out there? A general acceptance that some characters just are not meant to compete as well as others (which asks a whole host of other questions if you accept that)?

System mechanics that benefit characters unevenly - Similar to the above, I look at mechanics in MK11 and how they are implemented across the cast. FBs are a terrific example. Some characters need to be point blank to land theirs, or deal with goofy hitboxes that make the move unreliable (hi again Kotal!) while others (often already strong characters) get very potent full screen FBs, or FBs that nullify zoning (Kabal, Noob, Cetrion). Same with KBs, which I generally like and I support them as a design element, but they are unevenly distributed. This has been beat to death so you don't need me to go into it, but even at the base level things like the throw KBs kill me. Why do some characters get a fun mix-up element ("uh oh, if he forward throws me again it will be the KB, so I'll tech forward and take the backthrow" "kekeke, I'm gonna backthrow this idiot 5 times in a row") while others just get "next throw kills, GG"?

And again, this usually follows the pattern of already strong characters getting access to the best/most reliable KBs. Why?

If you just described KBs to me in a vacuum, I would just assume they were used as a balancing tool. The stronger the character the fewer KBs they have or the more specific/difficult the conditions to trigger them, while weaker characters would have easier or more reliable KBs to give them a little extra juice. But this just isn't the case and I have to wonder why. You can say the same with armor breaks where some characters got armor breaks that they would probably use in a combo normally while others have to make a hard read or even spec into a less useful variation to even have access to theirs. Or, speaking of variations, some characters across MKX and MK11 got multiple excellent options while others only have 1 viable variation (most striking on launch MK11). Why!? They have to see this so what is the design philosophy at work and what is the goal?

Core gamer appeal vs noob crushing characters/moves - This one is the most baffling to me and really is my core question when I look at NRS games.

NRS does a ton of really hard work to appeal to the wider market, not just the FGC crowd. They put a ton of single player stuff in the game, big cinematic stories, DLC guest characters that are meant to bring in a broader audience, all that good shit. It's clear they really want to onboard new and "causal" fighting game fans and they do get them, just look at the sales numbers! Anecdotally I have several friends who couldn't give a shit about SF, GG, or any other FG, but have bought every MK released since the 90s.

Then those core gamers go online and get absolutely OBLITERATED by Deadshot or Deathstroke from full screen, or a difficult to counter move like the classic Shokan stomp or Doomsday's high/low stomp. We've all seen the crying streamer clip and you absolutely know that is not a unique experience.

Again, I have to say that I am personally fine with this kind of thing. I can deal with strong zoning and I understand what is happening when Doomsday loops me with a hard to block move online. But for the "average" player who isn't going to have the patience for full screen bullet hell or understand quite what is happening when they get stomped on wake up 20 times in a row, it's insanely frustrating. All you need to do is go to a major gaming website or popular non-FG YouTuber's channel and read the comments to see just how frustrating and repellent these designs are. They really do send people screaming from the games.

NRS does all this work to bring these people in, and then immediately chases them away the second they try to step out of the kiddie pool of SP and play online, and I have to wonder why. You have these characters with a very simple, one-move gameplan that requires much more work to counterplay game after game (MK11 is slightly better about this but still has it's moments). This is especially striking with things like the delayed stomp or "online Doomsday" where even if you understand the situation you can still get busted up pretty easily. Or with some of the more infamous zoners who enjoy full screen domination and then a invincible reversal to bail them out when the opponent finally gets in, or just as dangerous and rewarding mix as the supposed rush down characters on the roster.

What do we think the idea here is? Do these moves/characters exist to give mediocre players a way to scam some wins online? Is the idea to push new/casual FG gamers towards the lab and resources to learn the game by providing them with an identifiable challenge that they will definitely encounter on a regular basis? What is the design goal when they put Full Auto Jacquie or launch Deathstroke in the game?


This reads a lot like a list of salty complaints, but I promise I'm not trying to just re-litigate a bunch of shitposts. I genuinely want to understand why NRS makes the decisions they do when so many of them seem to run counter to their goals (IE bringing in a large and sustained audience that will want to buy DLC and the next game they put out). Is there some strategy I'm missing here? Why do you think they make these decisions?

Speculate away!
 

Second Saint

A man with too many names.
I think the reason some characters don't get fixed boils down to something Dizzy said on here a long time ago that I can't be bothered to look up. Essentially, it was that it's okay for your character to be mid-tier. That means having a few bad matchups isn't a problem, even if you happen to have the worst matchup in the game. If you try and buff or nerf a character purely because of one matchup, that ends up effecting every single other matchup.

As for some characters coming out inherently strong and others coming out inherently weak, I think a lot of that has to do with who in particular is responsible for designing each character. I don't know many specifics, but didn't Dizzy (the actual pro-player on the staff) design Geras, a fundamentally sound character that managed to remain good despite constant nerfs? I've heard that for awhile, but I've never seen a source. This of course doesn't mean too terribly much, because ultimately the meta can't truly be understood until the public gets ahold of the game. It may turn out that all the strengths a character was given just don't fit well in the meta. Harley in I2 was like that. On paper, she had all the tools to compete, but in practice, she had one of the worst matchup spreads in the game. Her strengths just weren't enough to make up for her deficiencies, but since she looked strong at first glance, she received exactly 1 buff throughout the whole game, and that was to make her best button not whiff on characters that float.

Mechanics effecting characters unevenly is also the likely reason for why meter works the way it does in MK11. There were often huge meter discrepancies in MK X or Injustice based on how a character zoned or even just how they pressured, and it often lead to situations where one character got to build and use twice as much meter. It's been controversial, but I understand what they were going for and respect the effort. I think making defense against zoning more dynamic with a universal way to build meter while approaching would've been better, but this system effectively guarantees near parity.
 

Kiss the Missile

Red Messiah
I've had problems with NRS balancing in the past, but MK11 was the first time I actually thought they did a bad job.
I've said it multiple times already, but getting excited for a new universal mechanic in Armor Breakers, then finding out my main (Soul Eater Shang) didn't get one was genuinely baffling. I couldn't see a reason why some characters were locked out. At first I thought maybe combo characters didn't get ABs, but then you have Joker who has some of the most brutal damage, meterless launchers and a built in Armor Breaker that works across all variations.

Of course you also had low tier characters getting "buffed" with just a jab's worth of extra health, and the customs fiasco. Like if they already knew they were doing custom variations by the time Ultimate came out, why did they design Rain to have locked moves? And Mileena just seems like she was designed to be bad on purpose. Ball doesn't launch, no cancels on teleport, and that fucking "invisibility"? She doesn't actually turn invisible, takes a damage debuff and automatically loses meter when she uses it. Compare that to MKX Reptile who went completely invisible when he used meter, could do it so fast that it let him create new combos when he canceled a string and was fucking invincible while it was active.

It was just a mess. I really hope this was due to new work conditions via covid.
 
well, when i look at a character like nightwolf... he has nothing amazing. everything he has has a tradeoff, be it frame data, range, anything. in this case its even a bit harsh but everything makes a sense in terms of internal balance, you get no braindead shit for free. then i look at a character like kabal who dominates the screen and is like -2 on everything and wonder if he just got forgotten in the balancing process or if these characters were designed by two different persons with different visions who barely ever communicate.
 
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Wrenchfarm

Lexcorp Proprietary Technologies
I've said it multiple times already, but getting excited for a new universal mechanic in Armor Breakers, then finding out my main (Soul Eater Shang) didn't get one was genuinely baffling. I couldn't see a reason why some characters were locked out. At first I thought maybe combo characters didn't get ABs, but then you have Joker who has some of the most brutal damage, meterless launchers and a built in Armor Breaker that works across all variations.
I had the exact same experience. I played Soul Eater Shang, which was not a variation or character anyone thought was busted in anyway, and it was bizarre to just not get an armor break. Just "nope, you don't get to participate with this new system mechanic." And there are plenty of other mid to low tier characters with the same issue. Baffling.

...and wonder if he just got forgotten in the balancing process or if these characters where designed by two different persons with different visions who barely ever communicate.
This could be a factor. Maybe the design team is heavily siloed in NRS and that leads to certain characters being built by teams with different views/priorities when it comes to balance. Even still, I'm sure everything is reviewed and discussed, so it's not like these are unknown outcomes.

That's the thing I keep coming back to. I don't accept the answer that they are just "lazy" or somehow "don't understand" the games they make. At the end of the day, they intentionally make these choices. And you see the same choices being made game after game, they clearly have some reason to do it.

Even when it comes to patches, a situation where they have a wealth of feedback to absorb, in-game metrics they can see, and tournament results to draw from (although I completely understand that you don't always want to balance around what is happening in the tournament scene), there are always some struggling characters who just don't get anything. Look at Shao Kahn, consistently bottom tier the entire life span of the game and never really had his core issues addressed. Or even more baffling you see struggling characters get nerfs (I'll never understand why Blood God Kotal, a character only played by a small handful and rarely ever seen in top 8, was gutted in the last patch for MKX). I want to understand the logic behind it.
 

CrimsonShadow

Administrator and Community Engineer
Administrator
You basically described every fighting game, and why they have tiers.

The only difference here is that a game like SFV or DBFZ takes 5 years of adjustment to get it from being heavily lopsided into a more pleasing/acceptable state, while NRS usually moves on after two.

But in general, a new fighting game system takes a lot of massaging to hit something of an optimal state.. And even then, you’ll still have some unfavorable matchups, top tiers, and bottom tiers.

For anyone who’s been around for at least 2-3 games though, it’s clear that they’re getting much better at it. We’re a far cry from the Quan Chi/Tanya/Alien, Cyrax/Kabal/Kenshi, f23 or INJ2 Black Adam days of the past.
 

M2Dave

Zoning Master
I agree with Crimson Shadow. Most of these talking points are actually not good whatsoever. Allow me provide an extended response, though, because the topic creator put some thought into this topic.

I've had problems with NRS balancing in the past, but MK11 was the first time I actually thought they did a bad job.
I thought that NRS balanced Mortal Kombat 11 in a similar manner that Capcom balanced Street Fighter 5 and Namco balanced Tekken 7. Buffs and nerfs are implemented conservatively because the objective is to change characters gradually rather than abruptly. While I believe that Mortal Kombat 11 is a bad fighting game that is beyond repair, I also believe that NRS did a good job balancing the game. Most low and mid-tier characters received meaningful buffs while most top tier characters received reasonable nerfs. Only a couple of characters, Kitana and Sheeva come to mind, were over-nerfed.

Feast and Famine characters - Across each title there are always a few characters that can seemingly do everything and a few who seem to have very specific and niche playstyles that often have less reward than other characters that can do the same thing better and more.
Such is the case in every fighting game that has ever been released. Top tier characters have always had access to tools that go beyond their archetypes. For example, Zod is an outstanding zoning character in Injustice 1, but he also comes with a formidable offensive game. In fact, the mix ups and damage output that the trait provides are superior to all low and mid-tier rush down characters. On the other hand, the character who can only zone in the game, Cyborg, is worthless competitively. The same concept applies to rush down characters who also function as footsies, mobility, and anti-zoning characters. Flash mixes like nobody else in Injustice 1 except Batgirl, yet he moves incredibly fast and manoeuvres around projectiles with a set of some of the best anti-zoning tools in the game. Of course, these examples transcend Injustice 1 and go back to the conception of fighting games. The first fighting game character with a dive kick is Dhalsim in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. He is the best zoning character in the game yet has access to powerful offensive options (i.e., dive kicks, longest throw range that is not a command grab, loop-able holds and okizeme, etc.)

System mechanics that benefit characters unevenly - Similar to the above, I look at mechanics in MK11 and how they are implemented across the cast.
No system mechanics will ever benefit every character evenly. Neither are they designed to do so. To use the most recent and most relevant example, the V-Shift mechanic is obviously not meant to affect every character equally in Street Fighter 5. V-Shift is defensive in nature so evidently the mechanic will provide more advantages to a character like Dhalsim than Zangief.

Core gamer appeal vs noob crushing characters/moves - This one is the most baffling to me and really is my core question when I look at NRS games.
I agree with you on this one, but I am certain that you already know the answer to your question. Mortal Kombat is inherently a primitive fighting game designed for the casual audience, and Mortal Kombat 11 is arguably the ideal example, a shallow fighting game absent of any depth and interesting character designs. If you demand quality, look elsewhere. The good news is that you have options if you know where to look.
 

Juggs

Lose without excuses
Lead Moderator
Here’s what I’ve wanted as far as NRS’ balancing philosophy is concerned.

I have felt for a long time that if balancing was handled differently, it would work out for the best for NRS games and players. And the prime way I believe it should be done is focusing far more on buffing characters than nerfing characters. Allow me to explain.

When you nerf good characters and most if not all of the good stuff they have, it doesn’t have the actual desired effect, in my opinion. The purpose is to make them more balanced and fair compared to the rest of the cast. But in reality, what it tends to actually do is make people just not want to use those characters anymore. Because they nerf everything that made that character good, fun, and viable. I know most of you have heard of the phrase “tier shifting”, and that’s exactly what happens when you take an approach like this. To be clear, I am NOT suggesting that you never nerf a character or characters. What I’m mainly advocating for is buffing far more often than you nerf, and paying very close attention to what you’re nerfing so you’re not killing the characters viability.

My entire goal with this philosophy is I want everyone to more or less be able to use whatever character they want, to an extent, and be able to compete. But beyond that, I also do not want to punish players who have put in countless amount of hours dedicated to training with certain “top tier” or just simply “good” characters. When you buff the weaker characters, the characters that were already good will still see plenty of play. It’s just now, the weaker characters beforehand are now also being played and can now actually compete. This accomplishes balance the same way as heavily nerfing all the top tier and good characters, but it’s actually better and more efficient because as I said, more characters across the board will be played.

So essentially, you won’t be punished for putting in so much time learning a character, all their matchups, spending so much time & effort in training mode and actual matches, JUST because the character you’re using is really good or top tier. And conversely, you will be rewarded for using the much weaker characters because now they’ll actually be viable candidates for competitive play.
I feel nerfs should be designated for moves that are WAY TOO good and that completely dominate the meta. It seems like instead of taking this approach, they nerf several very crucial aspects about a top tier character to where they not only aren’t a top tier character anymore, they often times are no longer viable options to choose in a competitive setting. Of course, this isn’t always the case, and I believe NRS has gotten infinitely better at handling balancing and balance patches.

So anyway, here’s how I believe the timeline of balance patches should be going forward.

They should give it 3 months after release. After 3 months, the first balance patch should be of course fixing all the bugs & glitches they can, but then slightly buffing all the characters that are perceived at the time to be bottom tier or low mid. Nothing crazy yet, just giving them slight boosts. For nerfing at this point, unless something is already VERY OBVIOUSLY broken and dominating the meta, leave it be for now.

Then 3 months from that, (aka 6 months from release), they do a big balance patch. This will also be fixing as many of the bugs & glitches as they can, but then also implementing major buffs to the bottom tier, and buffs to the bottom mid tier. For the top tier characters, very slight & minor nerfs. Like stated previously, we don’t want people to drop characters because you gutted them, you want people to drop characters because they want to try other characters that are now far more viable than they’ve ever been.

At this point, it allows just about every character to be somewhat viable, and doesn’t force people who have been maining certain top tier characters to have to abandon their characters. While simultaneously rewarding those who stuck with the lower tiered characters.

And I’d repeat this process. The next 3 months (9 months after release), you do once again any bugs or glitches fixes, then do VERY minor buffs to the characters that need it. And essentially just repeat everything already previously stated. Then after 3 more months (12 months after release), you have another huge balance patch.

I just would absolutely love this type of approach. Because quite honestly, I’m beyond sick at this point of dedicating SO MUCH TIME into my favorite character, and then that character getting unnecessarily neutered to the point where all of their good & fun stuff is no longer possible or viable. NRS tends to focus far too much on the negative complaints of characters being unfair or too good, and not enough focus on the complaints of certain characters not being good enough. I mean, both sides of this coin tend to get rather hyperbolic, but that’s why you don’t just take their word for it just because a lot of the casuals are complaining about the same thing or character. And it also always happens to be the most popular character, not necessarily in tournaments, but online, that gets the most complaints that typically are completely unwarranted.

Anyway, that’s how I would handle all of this, and how I truly hope NRS will with their next game. I don’t want another game that devolves into being such a boring game because all of the really cool and fun characters got bodied just for the sake of “balance”. I’d much rather play a fighting game where just about every character can be viable, and they all have their own good stuff and their own dirt. This would be beneficial to the entirety of the playerbase. From casuals, to average players, to competitive players, to the top players. Everyone would much rather play a super fun game that also happens to be balanced, as oppose to a game that is super balanced but completely dull with little to no personality with most characters, and just overall. Just how I see it at least. ¯\(ツ)
 

Wrenchfarm

Lexcorp Proprietary Technologies
I appreciate the responses.

Such is the case in every fighting game that has ever been released. Top tier characters have always had access to tools that go beyond their archetypes... The first fighting game character with a dive kick is Dhalsim in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. He is the best zoning character in the game yet has access to powerful offensive options (i.e., dive kicks, longest throw range that is not a command grab, loop-able holds and okizeme, etc.)
This is of course true, every fighting game has tiers and characters that are better or worse than others, and better characters generally have more options or at least tools to help shore up their weakpoints. What is striking about NRS games is not that the divisions exist, but the gulf between these divisions. I look at other modern fighting games, like Strive for example, and while there are definitely stronger and weaker characters, it still feels like they all have the chance to compete and only a very few MUs feel 3-7 or worse (maybe GL vs Axl? Even then I'd hesitate).

But we look at NRS titles and see huge gaps between the haves and have not characters. There are famously "all but unwinnable" MUs in every NRS title to date and characters that seem to have almost no purpose in the game other than to be clowned.

No system mechanics will ever benefit every character evenly. Neither are they designed to do so. To use the most recent and most relevant example, the V-Shift mechanic is obviously not meant to affect every character equally in Street Fighter 5. V-Shift is defensive in nature so evidently the mechanic will provide more advantages to a character like Dhalsim than Zangief.
This is another truism, but there is definitely more to discuss here than "it happens in every game." Sure, your example of V-Shift is a good one, a way to safely disengage and create distance from the opponent is going to benefit a zoner more than a grappler, for sure. But even then, at least the grappler HAS the tool and can use it when the situation calls for it (escaping a mix up situation, etc) even if it's going to hurt him on average more than help.

MK11 is kind of unique though in how much certain system mechanics help/hinder different characters. Armor Break is the most stand out one because it was implemented while the game was live, made to address a problem universal to the cast, but implemented in a way where the disparities between characters are so insanely striking. Some have much better ones than others while some don't even have an armor break depending on variation.

Armor Break was brought in as an answer to break away which many felt was too strong and one-dimensional. Looking at the design of Armor Break, it was clearly intended as a call out option to punish thoughtless use of break away and create a small mind game between "should I finish my combo normally, or do I think they're going to break away?" and "should I break away, or save my meter and risk eating the whole combo hoping they attempt an Armor Break and I get off light and keep the meter to boot?"

But then they implemented it in the MOST bizarre away. Some characters had it attached to normals. Sure, fine. But of these, some of them were useful normals that might be used in a combo naturally while others were wild choices that were difficult to even use in the appropriate situation. Still others had their Armor Break attached to special moves. For some characters these were core special moves that came included with every variation they had, with others they were tied to specials that were variation locked, or (counting for customs) very niche and generally not selected specials. And again, we see the same tilting where a lot of the better characters were given more useful Armor Breaks while some generally underpowered characters went without.

The only reason to make Armor Breaks unique for each character instead of something universal like a D2 is to try and nudge the balance this way and that. But then the spread of who has a good armor break and who doesn't seems completely random. Just confusing when you step back and look.

KBs are the same way, there isn't even consistency on how many KBs each character has, particularly when considering each variation. And outside of the universal D2 KB, identical KBs don't even all perform the same. Throw KBs being the key example here, with A) throws being so common that just having a throw KB makes a huge difference in character strength. And B) where back/forward specific throw KBs seem designed to introduce an extra layer of complexity while non-directionally specific throws just seem like a straight up bonus - so Feast characters with an agnostic throw KB are "just built different" from the rest of the cast.

This isn't the same as a universal mechanic helping some archetypes of characters more than others, these are specific, deliberate choices made for each character that (from my POV) lack a coherent design. And again, maybe I'm being stubborn but I refuse to accept "NRS is dum" or that they don't understand their game. They make these choices for a reason, and that reason clearly isn't "balance among the entire cast." They must think it is somehow healthy for the game or desirable to have clearly stratified power levels among the cast, which is a very interesting position that flies in the face of most other major FGs.


Here’s what I’ve wanted as far as NRS’ balancing philosophy is concerned.

I have felt for a long time that if balancing was handled differently, it would work out for the best for NRS games and players. And the prime way I believe it should be done is focusing far more on buffing characters than nerfing characters. Allow me to explain.

When you nerf good characters and most if not all of the good stuff they have, it doesn’t have the actual desired effect, in my opinion. The purpose is to make them more balanced and fair compared to the rest of the cast. But in reality, what it tends to actually do is make people just not want to use those characters anymore...

So essentially, you won’t be punished for putting in so much time learning a character, all their matchups, spending so much time & effort in training mode and actual matches, JUST because the character you’re using is really good or top tier. And conversely, you will be rewarded for using the much weaker characters because now they’ll actually be viable candidates for competitive play.

I feel nerfs should be designated for moves that are WAY TOO good and that completely dominate the meta. It seems like instead of taking this approach, they nerf several very crucial aspects about a top tier character to where they not only aren’t a top tier character anymore...

I just would absolutely love this type of approach. Because quite honestly, I’m beyond sick at this point of dedicating SO MUCH TIME into my favorite character, and then that character getting unnecessarily neutered to the point where all of their good & fun stuff is no longer possible or viable.
I've been on this end of things and I tend to agree. It does suck when your characters gets gutted and the things that made the character fun suddenly vanish overnight. I would much rather see buffs for weak characters rather than nerfs for top tiers and save big changes for only the most egregious and game ruining stuff.

I think this is a symptom of NRS's core balance problems though because they paint themselves into a corner. How do you make Dirtbag Kano or Totemic Kotal as good as Cetrion? With what those characters had access to at launch, I have no idea. This isn't a case of adjusting some negative frame advantage, making a projectile do 10% damage instead of 8%, or nudging the hitbox on a move or two. If you wanted to bring the bottom characters of MK11 up to the top characters, you're looking at almost complete re-designs. New moves, new strings, new properties, etc.

And of course, what's easier? Going back to the drawing board after the game has been out for 8 months and getting Kano's motion capture guy and voice actor to come in and create some new moves/lines? Or just gutting what the top tiers have? When the disparity is too great, it gets hard to buff bad characters into more than what they have (I think this is why we see such goofy attempts like "Shao Kahn has 50 more health, he's fixed.")

This is the core thing I've come to grips with. When looking at an NRS game, it's almost pointless trying to argue for buffs or nerfs because (and I'm really not trying to be insulting) creating a balanced game just doesn't seem to be a priority for them. You wouldn't see the same "mistakes" game after game if they really were trying to learn and move towards a more balanced approach.

We can excuse a lot of the broken stuff in MK9 because it was their first outing in years, included the entire "classic era" MK cast, and was on the heels of much more casual games like Armageddon. We can give Injustice 1 a kind of pass as the first follow up out of those conditions. But by the time we get to MK11 and we see "yup, Lui Kang can do everything while Frost has exactly 1 combo and it does 26%" can we really be surprised?

I'm usually a character first person. I tend to like a character for whatever reason and stick with them. In most FGs this is perfectly fine, even if there are bad MUs you can usually adapt and overcome. In NRS games though, I feel like you genuinely hit a point where you are working so up hill that it becomes a slog. My enjoyment of MK11 grew so much when I finally gave up on Kotal/Jade and just went to Soul Eater Shang (who wasn't even that strong, just not glaringly weak). Next MK or Injustice, I'm just going to main Lui or Batman or whatever "blue chip" character is good game after game and looks strong on day 1.
 
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M2Dave

Zoning Master
@Wrenchfarm , while you speak the truth and list the effects accurately, you fail to acknowledge the cause of the problem, which, not to beat the dead horse for the thousandth time, is the Warner Bros.' two-year cycle that prohibits NRS from advancing the meta and balancing the game properly. There is no doubt in my mind that the developers and quality assurance staff at NRS are as capable as any other in the gaming industry. I used to compete against some of them in Mortal Kombat 9 and I know that they understand how fighting games function at a high level. The issue is that they are limited by resources and time, two aspects that are inapplicable to companies like Nintendo, Capcom, and Namco. You complain about Mortal Kombat 11's meta and balance, and rightfully so, yet fail to recognize that premium fighting games such as Street Fighter 4 and Tekken 7 had similar issues that were fixed in the span of four to five years. I am certain that you remember the extreme offensive nature of Street Fighter 5 and the Leroy fiasco in Tekken 7 that were eventually rectified.

As an informed consumer, you must know by now what you receive by purchasing an NRS product, a primitive fighting game, primarily designed to attract the attention of the casual audience, whose meta and balance will never exceed the initial phases of depth, quality, and satisfaction. I know that I am right because almost all former top players quit playing Mortal Kombat 11 as soon as they found out that the game was no longer receiving support. Ninja Killa, who was at CEO, even refused to participate in the tournament, which is unheard of for a modern fighting game. Such is the legacy of Mortal Kombat 11, irrespective of what the shills, excuse makers, and profiteers claim, of which, unfortunately, there is an abundance, even on this website.
 
I think saying the two year cycle completely prevents proper balance is just not justified by past evidence. Many games LAUNCH with more viable roster picks than Inj 1 ever achieved. I'll be the first to point out how most games have all sorts of jank and gross stuff, but there's something in the water when it comes to their decisions to leave some characters alone or never even fix kits that clearly just don't function.

Other than that I mostly agree with juggs.

Tier's will always be a thing but the delta between the top and the bottom is important, and further how hard the tiers feel at various skill levels matters too. Older guilty gears have infamous balance issues (eddie/testament come to mind), but people love them because if you get half decent with your main you'll still probably get to do completely absurd/neat shit. Most matches aren't being played on stage at top 8, so if getting good enough to "do the thing" makes you feel like you're playing, and you aren't totally shut out by a similar level player, it's a good thing.

This was the charm of MK 9 and to some degree X. While there was unplayable trash in both of those, you had decent odds that someone somewhere had figured out some gross tech with your main and you could practice and work with that. Inj, i feel, was much worse at this and had a much larger % of it's cast that DID NOT WORK, and worse, obviously so (welcome to zod/luthor, hope you brought lube).

Of major note though, MK 11 feels like they tried to solve this by just getting rid of "the thing". It's all i whine about when i post, but the easiest example is taking the SUPER unique and distinct playstyle of ice clone sub from MK 9/X, and butchering it so badly that even if you pick the move you MIGHT use it. Even the good characters often just feel like "normal" characters who have functional tools. Shang wasn't anything super cool imo, he was just a zoner that didn't suck. Having a few of those is ok, but a majority of the MK 11 cast feels like they're that way. No unique tools, just some stuff that works. Geras has all these neat gimmicks/styles/way's to play, while other characters would kill to just have one that feels like actual character expression.

And in the end, it makes very little sense. Maybe you should or shouldn't nerf jacqui, but you sure as hell could stand to buff an absurd number of moves/characters. It blows my mind that they spend all this time making all these different moves, and then give them frame data that's just laughably bad? Who out there is running noob with ghost ball? Why even bother to put that in? Was there really a reason to design that move so it NEVER had a purpose? Did they have a move quota?

And that's before we even get back into armor breakers and just breakers in general. Anyone who's played a game with combo breaks knows that it's a good idea to have some sort of gamble on the break. GG burst baits are hype as hell and a major factor in higher level play. MK 11 gives out armor breakers to some characters and even fewer of them have viable ones. Cool thanks i guess.

I literally don't know how you come to these sorts of decisions when lots of games have come a lot closer to hitting the mark first try. I don't expect immediate perfection, but some of these are literally baffling. Then of course it gets worse when they refuse to touch up some of these things. Feels completely random where the buffs hit, when it's glaringly obvious where the problems are. And MK11 overall just felt like someone new to fighters was in charge of "what they felt was fair", who's never touched GG/MvC/ST/SC or whatever well renowned "busted but surprisingly balanced" series. I get they were going for a grounded footsies approach, but so does SS and they sure as hell have had some awesome character ideas, and V special fell in that unique flavor of mk9 with a lot of busted nonsense that was still a blast to play.
 

Wrenchfarm

Lexcorp Proprietary Technologies
not to beat the dead horse for the thousandth time, is the Warner Bros.' two-year cycle that prohibits NRS from advancing the meta and balancing the game properly. There is no doubt in my mind that the developers and quality assurance staff at NRS are as capable as any other in the gaming industry. I used to compete against some of them in Mortal Kombat 9 and I know that they understand how fighting games function at a high level. The issue is that they are limited by resources and time, two aspects that are inapplicable to companies like Nintendo, Capcom, and Namco. You complain about Mortal Kombat 11's meta and balance, and rightfully so, yet fail to recognize that premium fighting games such as Street Fighter 4 and Tekken 7 had similar issues that were fixed in the span of four to five years. I am certain that you remember the extreme offensive nature of Street Fighter 5 and the Leroy fiasco in Tekken 7 that were eventually rectified.
I'm sure the development cycle and quick turnaround on the games definitely has an impact. And you're definitely right that the tendency to just ditch a game after 2 years doesn't let the meta develop and "breath" like longer running games like SFV and Tekken. For sure these are factors.

But like @Eji1700 points out lots of games have short development cycles and don't suffer as badly when it comes to balance/core gameplay. Just because they are rushed doesn't mean these things slip by, especially when they are often re-run issues from the previous games.

SFV is actually a good comparison point because it launched like an inverse MK11. People had complaints about the meta, but it was typical SF stuff. IIRC (and TBF I didn't like SFV so maybe I'm wrong here) I don't remember any "dead on arrival" or insane "day 1 S+ tier" characters like we see with NRS games again and again. What the game lacked was substance outside of offline VS, and a degree of polish (ugly art, clipping models, barebones online experience, etc). MK11 comes out and immediately it's clear that the balance is fucked (like every other NRS game) but it's got bells and whistles to spare (gorgeous graphics, a long story mode, krypt, skins, customizable intro cinematics/win poses, etc).

Of course SFV was supported for years and eventually added in all of those missing features and some degree of polish. MK11 lived for two years and got dumpstered.

And in the end, it makes very little sense. Maybe you should or shouldn't nerf jacqui, but you sure as hell could stand to buff an absurd number of moves/characters. It blows my mind that they spend all this time making all these different moves, and then give them frame data that's just laughably bad? Who out there is running noob with ghost ball? Why even bother to put that in? Was there really a reason to design that move so it NEVER had a purpose? Did they have a move quota?
This is definitely one of the things that bugs me. Whatever else you say, NRS does put a ton of work into these games and into each character/move. So it blows my mind when they spend all the time creating a character, animating their moves, adding skins, cinematics, gear, blah blah blah, and then the character has like 1 usable string, 1 combo (variation locked), and like 5 special moves that are never used, a dead variation, etc. Why go to all the effort just to end up with something unusable?

Or zoom out to the larger perspective. They put 20+ characters in the game, only to see the online experience dominated by mirror matches of Deadshot all firing from full screen. I'm sure that isn't super fulfilling to watch.

Ugh. Again, I didn't want this to just be a dump thread so I won't labor the point. I guess to refocus I'd ask an open question for everyone:

Are there any advantages to creating/playing a purposefully imbalanced game?

I'm down for any speculation here. From a player perspective, from a developer perspective, from a business perspective, whatever.

I want to understand why these games are the way they are because they really are different from every other "big" fighting game franchise/developer out there. I think that difference (and the fact that MK continues to be such a commercial/cultural success compared to these "better" games) is interesting.

And maybe there isn't any deeper answer than "that's just how NRS makes games and the core audience doesn't see/care about these gameplay issues" but I think it's worth exploring out.
 
Are there any advantages to creating/playing a purposefully imbalanced game?
I think there's a few, sorta, and I wouldn't say it's purposefully imbalanced so much as balance isn't their top priority.

I could go on about the marketing value of tournaments and weighing the cost/benefit of dev time, but at the end of the day I feel like there's some marketing involvement (make sure the DLC characters get bought, make sure DC's flagship see's tournament play, etc), but most of it is probably "nah we don't want to spend resources on that".

And to be somewhat fair, it's working. Everyone here or who's ever been here doesn't even make up 1% of their market, so as much as we'd like the game to really show off what it can do, and be the thing that gets tournament eyes, at the end of the day NRS looks to be more focused on spectacle for casuals, and that's fine. Dev resources ARE limited, and while i think NRS is stingy even by my generous standards, I can sorta see them saying "yeah screw it, just focus on stuff that adds more spectacle, who cares if half the cast can't top 8" or whatever.

It does however mean that palying these games at intermediate and higher levels falls off fast, especially if you're a character loyalist who happenes to get shafted.
 

Marlow

Noob
I want to understand why these games are the way they are because they really are different from every other "big" fighting game franchise/developer out there.
I'm not sure I agree with that statement. At least in terms of balance. My general experience has been that most fighting games have similar tiers and development to NRS games. The biggest difference I see is that the size and culture of the communities themselves. For games like Street Fighter and Tekken, there's a lot more good competitive players who are willing to play mid or even lower tier characters. So I think the representation and impression of those characters is higher than an NRS game, where competitive players in the community typically spend more time playing top tiers.



Almost every game
SFV is actually a good comparison point because it launched like an inverse MK11. People had complaints about the meta, but it was typical SF stuff. IIRC (and TBF I didn't like SFV so maybe I'm wrong here) I don't remember any "dead on arrival" or insane "day 1 S+ tier" characters like we see with NRS games again and again.
I thought SFV had a fairly typical launch. Early tournaments and tier lists were dominated by Chun Li and Nash. Characters like Zangief, Fang, and Laura were bottom and had relatively little tournament representation.

Also for what it's worth, I don't think there any doa or day 1 S+ tier characters in MK11 at launch.
 

Revy

★ Two-Hands ★ 17 Years of Jade ★
IAlso for what it's worth, I don't think there any doa or day 1 S+ tier characters in MK11 at launch.
Geras & Cetrion were easily Day 1 S+ tier & arguably Scorpion.

D’Vorah & Shao Kahn were considered shit Day 1 but there’s other characters who were considered bad but ended up actually amazing or not as bad after NRS started to allow customized variations in tournament.
 

Marlow

Noob
Geras & Cetrion were easily Day 1 S+ tier & arguably Scorpion.

D’Vorah & Shao Kahn were considered shit Day 1 but there’s other characters who were considered bad but ended up actually amazing or not as bad after NRS started to allow customized variations in tournament.
I think characters like Geras, Cetrion (although outside of Dragon I'm not sure who else really repped her?) and maybe Scorpion were all really good at launch, but I'm not sure I'd consider them S+. There was also a lot of Jacqui and Sonya at launch, plus some solid Cassie, Baraka, and a smattering of others. They weren't dominating the competative scene the way I'd have expected S+ characters to dominate. All things considered I think there was a decent spread at the top tiers at launch.

D'Vorah and Shao Kahn were certainly bottom tier, but I think they were pretty comparable to bottom tier characters in other games at launch. And I'd say at a casual level both were viable. Also worth pointing out that a character like D'Vorah who was designed to be a setup character is typically the type of character that starts at a low tier due to being harder to pick up, and then rises as the game grows.
 

M2Dave

Zoning Master
But like @Eji1700 points out lots of games have short development cycles and don't suffer as badly when it comes to balance/core gameplay. Just because they are rushed doesn't mean these things slip by, especially when they are often re-run issues from the previous games.

SFV is actually a good comparison point because it launched like an inverse MK11. People had complaints about the meta, but it was typical SF stuff. IIRC (and TBF I didn't like SFV so maybe I'm wrong here) I don't remember any "dead on arrival" or insane "day 1 S+ tier" characters like we see with NRS games again and again. What the game lacked was substance outside of offline VS, and a degree of polish (ugly art, clipping models, barebones online experience, etc). MK11 comes out and immediately it's clear that the balance is fucked (like every other NRS game) but it's got bells and whistles to spare (gorgeous graphics, a long story mode, krypt, skins, customizable intro cinematics/win poses, etc).
Street Fighter 5 was anything but typical on release. The lack of content aside, the initial meta revolved around oppressive offense because of loop-able throws, spamm-able normal attacks with crush counter properties, V-Triggers that stole rounds like fatal blows in Mortal Kombat 11, V-Reversals that guaranteed okizeme, etc.

I assure you that there were conspicuous balance issues with Tekken 7 and Dragon Ball Fighter Z too on release, but there is no need to discuss the details.

As far as neglecting certain characters, particularly low tier characters, all fighting games are guilty as charged. In fact, the situation is worse with games like Street Fighter 5 and Tekken 7, which were released five years ago yet have kept some characters low tier since release. The #BuffLars meme is popular in the Tekken community because the character has been low tier for five+ years.

I do not understand why people exaggerate, fabricate, and/or engage in false equivalencies when Mortal Kombat 11 has a plethora of legitimate problems that could be brought to light. The vast majority of the game's problems have absolutely nothing to do with balance, though. The game has been immensely toned down that there ought to be little to complain about, especially if you used to play previous games of the series.
 

REO

Undead
Guys, can we talk about the real issues? The problem is MK11 isn't toned down enough. We need to get rid of flawless blocking, D+1 abuse, jump attacks, fatal blows, wake ups, D+2s, crushing blows, 50/50 throw system, customs, mid command throws, the annoying projectiles, auto regenerating meter, and so much more before we can call this a real fighting that is worthy of being played.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the broken top tiers in this game that carry players and require no skill whatsoever. You have stupid braindead S tiers like Cetrion and Jade zoning so hard with no effort they make MK9 Kenshi look like a rushdown character in comparison. Then you have dumb unga bunga characters like Jacqui and Kabal who are in the air 24/7 that would make Kung Lao from MK9 look like a grounded character. And what's with these idiotic designed characters like MK11 Liu Kang and Joker that seem to have every single tool in the book? You gave Liu a command grab, zoning, AND pressure?! What are you doing NRS? MK9 Kabal would be jealous.

Man, I miss the good old days when NRS games used to be so amazing and creative. F+2,3~Breath, F+1,2,1 with Tremor spammed 30 times per round, and Johnny rolling his face on the controller mashing F+3 in MK9, back when NRS was the pinnacle of fighting game design. Back when true skill actually mattered and NRS games were fun.
 

Eddy Wang

Skarlet scientist
Guys, can we talk about the real issues? The problem is MK11 isn't toned down enough. We need to get rid of flawless blocking, D+1 abuse, jump attacks, fatal blows, wake ups, D+2s, crushing blows, 50/50 throw system, customs, mid command throws, the annoying projectiles, auto regenerating meter, and so much more before we can call this a real fighting that is worthy of being played.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the broken top tiers in this game that carry players and require no skill whatsoever. You have stupid braindead S tiers like Cetrion and Jade zoning so hard with no effort they make MK9 Kenshi look like a rushdown character in comparison. Then you have dumb unga bunga characters like Jacqui and Kabal who are in the air 24/7 that would make Kung Lao from MK9 look like a grounded character. And what's with these idiotic designed characters like MK11 Liu Kang and Joker that seem to have every single tool in the book? You gave Liu a command grab, zoning, AND pressure?! What are you doing NRS? MK9 Kabal would be jealous.

Man, I miss the good old days when NRS games used to be so amazing and creative. F+2,3~Breath, F+1,2,1 with Tremor spammed 30 times per round, and Johnny rolling his face on the controller mashing F+3 in MK9, back when NRS was the pinnacle of fighting game design. Back when true skill actually mattered and NRS games were fun.
We love you too REO HAHAH!
 
I believe the reason they develop the way they do is to find a middle ground between casual and competitive players. Alot of the things they introduced were actually really good imo. The only thing I fault them for is support. They said this will be supported long and they abandoned it pretty much around the same time as every other game.

Balance was never a "huge" issue compared to other games in the past. But like others said, balance != good. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for liking or disliking the game but balance ain't one of them if we are being serious.
 
They said this will be supported long and they abandoned it pretty much around the same time as every other game.
They said it'd be their longest supported game to date, and it was. Support was actually a lot longer than, say, Mortal Kombat XL, and I suspect it was meant to go on for longer but that got messed up with the pandemic.

Having said that, it didn't go for as long as many of us expected.

Expectations and reality are often different things.
 

Revy

★ Two-Hands ★ 17 Years of Jade ★
Our definition of what "S+" is seems to be creeping lower and lower with each game.

I agree but I don’t think so in my case. At the time of release people did think Geras & Cetrion were completely broken Day which showed when Geras got nerfed later on but still probably considered to be Top 10 while Cetrion kinda got away with not getting nerfed into oblivion which is a travesty.

Personally, when it came to Scorpion I thought people were exaggerating as I thought Cassie was way better than Scorpion Day 1 & it kinda showed later on at EVO 2019 where 3 Cassie players placed in Top 8 (I think the same goes for Geras) & Sonic won with Cassie.