Rising Thunder Technical Alpha Impressions pt. 1

6 08 2015

Rising Thunder is an in-development online fighting game by Radiant Entertainment headed by long time community leader Seth Killian. In Rising Thunder players choose from a cast of giant battle robots to slug it out in what appears to be a fairly conventional fighting game, but where it seeks to set itself apart from the rest is in the simplification of its control scheme where any attack including special moves and super moves can be performed with the press of a single button. While most fighting games are known for their complicated inputs and intricate motions to input moves, Rising Thunder’s approach is to make the controls of the game minimalist and streamlined, stripping out most of the joystick acrobatics necessary to perform basic techniques in a character’s repetoire. The intent is not only to make the game more accessible to a wider range of players of varying skill levels, but also to lower the execution barrier and shift the focus more onto the essence of the play of the game and away from struggling with the controls. Couple this refreshing take on the genre with Radiant’s proprietary GGPO netcode, and you have a potential hit in the making and a reforging of the concept of what makes a fighting game a fighting game.

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I can say without hesitation that Rising Thunder has the makings of an outstanding entry in the genre. The lack of having to do complex motions for moves did not detract from the depth, and I found myself engaging more with the fundamentals of the game–the spacing, footsies, and mindgames–as a result of not having to keep a mental backlog of all of the inputs for the various techniques. I played over 5 consecutive hours in my first sit-down session playing it, spurred onwards by that “one more match” feeling so there’s definitely something compelling here. The game feels great in terms of its responsiveness and pacing of the matches, and the GGPO works about as seamlessly as I could hope for for an online fighting game; very scarcely was I aware of any slowdown or lag in the ranked matches I played, and felt I was engaging the opponent directly without the distractions of latency issues. The game is also quite visually appealing and crisp; the characters are simple but appealing and the effects are stylized and read well. Each of the different robot characters are unique in their playstyle and have a cool sense of personality and nationalism to them; most of their voiceover is even in their native language. There’s only one stage to speak of and 6 characters selectable, but I’m already excited to see what new content will arrive with the release of the full game.


 

The following is a brief breakdown of each of the six characters included in the alpha:

dauntlessDauntless

The “poster bot” for the game favors hard-hitting combo sequences and fishing for opportunities to deal out beefy damage with her fists of steel. To me Dauntless feels similar to Street Fighter’s Dudley. I logged the most time with Dauntless and as a representative of what a core fighter of the game should be, she feels solid and rewarding.

Quick Tips:

-Dauntless’s jumping heavy has lengthy range and the angle of the attack makes it great for jump-ins. If you hold down, it becomes a crossup variation of the attack. Use jumping medium for air-to-air situations.
-Use her medium, heavy attack string as the primary means of threatening the opponent and make them not want to stick their neck out during the neutral game. It outranges most light attacks and rewards you with moderate damage and a knockdown on hit.
-Dust Breaker (special B) is her reversal move when the opponent is bullying you at close range on the ground. It doesn’t work as well as an anti-air.
-Learn some combos with Kinetic Advance; this is where the majority of her damage comes from. All 3 special moves are often used in her combos. She can even land a damaging combo off of her throw using Kinetic Advance. The standard juggle combo finisher seems to be close medium, heavy, special Y, special A (hold down to chase the opponent and release to hit).

chelChel

Every 2D fighter needs its “shoto” character and Chel fills that role; her arsenal will seem immediately familiar with its fireball-uppercut-hurricane kick toolset. Chel’s playstyle revolves around forcing the opponent to respond to her fireballs, then preparing a response.

Quick Tips:

-After hitting (special Y), you can follow up with Crush Breeze(special B) for additional damage. After special B, you can do a crouching heavy for more free damage.
-Chel can also use (special A) while airborne to cut off an aerial approach by the opponent. Mix between the ground and the air to make the opponent wary of jumping excessively.
-Chel has access to some fantastic normal moves to keep the opponent at a distance. Standing medium and standing heavy both have great reach and are excellent footsie tools.

talosTalos

Talos is as close to a traditional grappler-character as any of the robots have come, and his strength is devastating. His magnetic attacks that draw the opponent toward him remind me of BlazBlue’s Iron Tager. Having access to both his special and super grab attacks at the press of a single button is a terrifying prospect.

Quick Tips:

-Many of Talos’s attacks have armored properties that blow through the opponent’s attacks. Holding down (special A) and (special B) will give it an armored property, and forward+heavy also has armor and leads to huge damage.
-After landing forward+heavy, use special B for easy additional damage as they rebound towards you.
-Talos’s stature allows his attacks to hit further up than other characters and have anti-air properties. Using standing heavy as a poke will sometimes catch airborne opponents.

vladVlad

This hulking Russian bot looks unwieldy but has surprising aerial mobility that makes him frightening once he mounts an airborne assault. Coupled with a projectile and a reversal uppercut, he has a well-rounded arsenal that can be utilized on offense or defense.

Quick Tips:

-When jumping in to attack the opponent, use the jetpack to stay airborne longer unexpectedly and open the opponent up as they try to shift their guard in anticipation of low attacks when you would have landed normally. He can also cancel his grounded heavy attacks into a sudden short hop by quickly jumping. Keep in mind that you need jetpack meter to use these techniques, which recharges over time.
-Clobbering Rush(special Y) is a great move. Due to its high vertical reach it functions as an anti-air, and is relatively safe on block. It is also utilized in many of his combos. You can even combo into super off of successfully hitting with this move.
-(special B) is a high-priority uppercut that you can use to beat out many of the opponent’s offensive attempts.

crowCrow

The sleek, futuristic profile of Crow’s design belies his repetoire of stylish ninja-like moves that confuse the opponent and keep them guessing as to where the strikes will land. Crow’s primary strength is in his offensive ability and prowess in defeating the opponent’s guard.

Quick Tips:

-Aim (special A) using either forward, neutral, or back such that it will land on the opponent and then use it to cover yourself as you approach for a mixup sequence. It can also be used defensively to discourage the opponent from jumping towards you.
-Crow is lacking in his defensive options, especially on a knockdown. Try to keep the momentum in your favor as you will invariably prefer to be the one pressuring the opponent rather than the other way around. Crow has excellent aerial moves and cross ups, and will typically go for a high/low mixup that knocks down, resetting the situation.
-Crow has some fantastic normal attacks for keeping the opponent on the defensive and shutting down their attempts at an approach. Jumping heavy and standing medium are fantastic at shutting down an opponent’s approach.
-Using Crow’s cloaking field (special Y) near a cornered opponent makes his attack sequences even more difficult to anticipate and react to.

edgeEdge

Rounding out the cast of characters is the gundam-esque Edge, wielding a plasma sword with reach and speed. As the only character currently rated at “hard” difficulty, Edge requires a bit more effort and thought to fully utilize, but is incredible when used to his potential.

Quick Tips:

-Hitting with Gathering Storm(special A) will charge up the power of (special B), up to three times. You can tell how much special B is powered up by looking at the indicator on Edge’s sword.
-special B is fast and functions as a reversal for defeating obvious attack attempts by the opponent. When special B is charged up, pressing the button twice will unleash additional hits. When fully charged, the move will cause the opponent to bounce off the wall back towards you, allowing potential follow up attacks, including his super move.
-Edge has a hard time beating a defensive opponent, but has a few tools for a high/low mixup. Forward+medium and (special Y), medium are fast overheads that will tag an opponent that is crouch-blocking. You can combo into (special A) after hitting with (special Y), medium.


Overall I am enjoying the Rising Thunder Alpha a lot and it shows great promise as a newcomer into the legacy of the fighting game library. However as much as I commend the push to innovate and expand the appeal to a wider audience via the simplification of the controls, I feel that there are several aspects of the game that contend with the desire to make the game approachable for beginners; on the contrary as a someone with a fair deal of fighting game experience I found the game unexpectedly challenging due to the following points:

Eight-button game

There are 3 normal attack buttons, and 3 special attack buttons. Additionally there is a dedicated button for throws, and a dedicated button just for overdrives (super moves). Currently there are no shortcut alternates or button combinations that emulate other functions (such as pressing 2 attack buttons to throw), meaning that you are unavoidably expected to use all 8 buttons. No other conventional fighting game has ever utilized every single one of the available buttons and it is actually daunting to have to do so. As much as Rising Thunder attempts to make the controls manageable, there is a definite disconnect in having to parse which of the 8 buttons your finger needs to hit in a particular situation and I still have numerous mistakes in pressing the wrong thing, especially when I’m not used to having to think about and stretch my pinky over to hit two additional buttons (on an arcade joystick) up from the usual 4 to 6 buttons.

Low jumps, ambiguous crossups

Another thing that I noticed in this game is that jumping has a fairly low arc and therefore a faster path of travel. This means that you have less time to react to an opponent going airborne until the time they are descending on you with an attack, and you must react much more quickly. While this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that many characters have only one input to press to defeat the jump attempt, characters without such tools will find themselves struggling to react to aggressive jump ins. There have been times when I had anticipated an opponent’s jump with a mentally prepared response to it and still got hit due to the small frame of time between the enemy leaving the ground and coming crashing down on you. Further exascerbating this issue is the ambiguity of crossups from the opponent’s jumping attack. Many characters have attacks that can hit in such a way that they can jump to the other side of the opponent’s facing thus forcing them to change their blocking direction, but it is especially hard to visually confirm in this game compounded by the fact that it happens so quickly.

Tight timing and combo utilization

Even though the vast majority of moves are performed with a single button press, stringing these various attacks together in a functional attack sequence or combo requires fairly strict timing and a lengthy sequence of inputs that parallels the demands of most mainstream fighting games. Coupled with the specificity of the commands spread out among 8 buttons, the ease of inputting the individual commands is offset by having those commands more compartmentalized and distributed among more buttons. Additionally, there are a few characters that require timing with holding and releasing a button to utilize in their combos properly which is another layer of execution complexity.
As an example, in Street Fighter IV and other iterations, Ryu has a simple damaging combo into super:
jumping MK, (land), crouching MK, Hadouken, Shinkuu Hadouken.
Ignoring joystick inputs, this combo can be performed with only 2 buttons: MK and any one punch button. An equivalent combo for Dauntless would be:
jumping H, (land), M, H, special Y, special A (delay), Overdrive.
This combo utilizes no less than 5 separate buttons, including a button hold-and-release, for comparable damage.

Meter management

Meter management is the presence of mind to be aware of your expendable resources in a match and make informed decisions with that information, such as when to use a super move or save it for a later round, or when you should or shouldn’t break out of an opponent’s combo. Rising Thunder features 5 different gauges to watch given that each of your 3 special moves function on a cooldown timer, with characters like Vlad and Edge having subsystems that are essentially more meters. Being cognizant of all of these different resources in the often split-second moment-to-moment decisions in a given match takes a lot of attention that beginner to intermediate players may find overwhelming, or have no concept of.


Despite the lower execution barrier, given the above factors, there are many barriers that seem to still exist or even have been created that will still separate the players that will perform well or poorly by the same margin. I’ve also voiced concern previously that making execution easier in general may raise the bar instead of lowering it, because it will lift certain aspects of the game which were previously considered “advanced” or “high-level” into the “vital to be competent” territory, which may leave more people out in the cold than bring into the fold.

Concerns aside from the intent of the game versus the hypothetical effect, Rising Thunder looks to be an amazing project even in these early stages and I am invested in its success and think myself a dedicated follower. I look forward to seeing what new things the game will bring to the table, and what its presence ultimately brings into effect in the fighting game scene.


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