I plan on creating a fighting game in the future, and I'm wondering how to make a roster functionally fair, and feel fair. You see, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate is functionally fair (I think), but at certain times, it doesn't feel fair (partially because I suck at the game).

Mario's up smash is one of the few that can't hit people on the lower platforms of battlefield, however, it still feels fair game somehow (up tilt is my guess). However, when playing against Ness, it can feel unfair to play because the other player can just spam PK Fire (side special) and then smash attack them at high enough HP. In other words, it is fair, but not fun.

How can I avoid something being spammed feeling unfair when creating a fighting game, and all the other moves of characters feel (and actually be) fair?

  • \$\begingroup\$ SSB is far from fair. There is a tier list for the characters for a reason. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 16:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I get the tier lists, but far from fair is an exaggeration. \$\endgroup\$
    – user124517
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 16:18

2 Answers 2



A large, commercial game like SSB will go through hundreds if not thousands of hours of playtesting prior to release to tweak the strength, size, duration, etc. of individual attacks to find an approximation of what is 'fair'.

Balance Passes

A balance pass is a post-release patch which adjusts the relative strengths of characters / attacks / items / etc.; it functions similarly to the tweaks made during playtesting but is usually more drastic and based on observing actual player statistics.

How can you achieve these with your game?

It's unlikely you'll have the time and/or money to do large scale playtesting, but there are a few ways you can make the task easier on yourself:

  1. Start small - it will be much easier to balance characters if you add them one-by-one, because you've already got a metric for what 'fair' is with the existing characters.
  2. Get friends / family / pets / anyone else to test the game from the moment it's playable - the more feedback you have, the more likely you'll get a balanced viewpoint.
  3. Collect statistics - when developing your game, make sure you include some functionality to record key stats. The stats that matter to your game may vary, but things like which character wins, average fight duration, most popular / most effective attacks, etc.

An important part to a mechanic feeling fair is the feeling that you (the target) can do something about what's happening. I.e. any mechanic (Ness side special) must have some sort of counterplay.

It's a design decision on whether that counterplay is specific or more general - Super Smash Brothers prefers more general counterplay mechanics in dodging and shield to avoid attacks, and falloff to make spamming a single mechanic less effective (as you use an ability more, it does less damage; as you dodge more, dodges provide less invincibility, lock you out for longer, etc). To continue the original example, there are a variety of general counterplay maneuvers to a player using Ness to spam side special and followup with a smash later (in order from general to specific):

  • As Ness uses side special, it does less and less damage, so the use is less punishing (every ability has this same mechanic)
  • The ability has an animation (as all abilities), which puts a window of vulnerability on Ness (every ability has this same mechanic)
  • Side special is dodge-able, though its persistence makes it less good to block. (Mostly generic counterplay)
  • Side special is a projectile, so any projectile reflect or absorb abilities will stop it (generic to any projectiles)

So, more generally - to make a fighting roster actually fair, you must include counterplay to any given mechanic. Not necessarily perfect counterplay (all of the above still rely on the receiver being "good enough" to execute on the counterplay strategies), but some counterplay.

To make a roster feel fair, you must make counterplay strategies accessible. It's one thing to have dodging/blocking/projectile reflection in the game, it's another thing for those mechanics to be available. If you can dodge an ability but the game never tells you that "dodge" is an action (or how to do it), then it's not an accessible counterplay mechanic. There are a variety of ways to make mechanics accessible, for example:

  • A tutorial can go a long way in showing players mechanics and how to use them
  • Help pages to refresh memory on what mechanics exist without having to replay the tutorial and learning how to walk again. A tutorial that's setup in steps that are each individually replayable can assist this as well.
    • i.e. a help page detailing "this is a dodge, this is what it does and how to use it [with a short video to help players recognize times they've dodged or enemies have dodged]", and then a playable exercise to show off dodging and give specific practice
  • Periodic random tips noting counterplay mechanics, or the ins-and-outs of them can be really helpful
    • A tip saying "dodges exist" isn't great (though depending on genre and target audience, a tip saying "If you're being hit too much, try dodging!" could go over well)
    • A tip mentioning that "Y character's X ability can't be dodged, but blocks are effective!" reminds the player to dodge, reminds the player to block, and gives the player insight into how they should be countering another specific instance.
  • Even using the "show don't tell" method can work well with this - if you have AI's make full use of the counterplay mechanics you expose, that can help players realize what those are and how to use them (you start realizing how good dodging can be if you're doing something and the enemy AI is dodging it constantly).
  • \$\begingroup\$ A. I'm aware of staling, but that doesn't change the fact that once you're caught in one you're likely going to be caught in a crud ton of others. The vulnerability frames are small. B: I wish ultimate had a good tutorial... C: Okey dokey. Tips on loading screens. D: I'll be sure to include that when I start on the game(which isn't anytime soon.) Though, when I was Ness, none of the lvl 9. AIs were able to even come close to getting out, or dodging/deflecting, a well timed PK-Fire spam(except for when I was facing another Ness). \$\endgroup\$
    – user124517
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 16:23

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