Why the “old game good, new game bad” discourse actually matters

Patrick Miller
10 min readApr 1, 2024


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“New fighting games are bad, actually” is one of the neverending topics of common fighting game conversation, and it has endured since the beginning of the genre itself. Legends say that as soon as the first Street Fighter II cabinet materialized into the world, a guy materialized next to it to helpfully inform people that SF2 was for casuals because special move inputs in SF1 took real skill.

The thesis of these conversations usually boils down to “Old games did [XYZ thing that the player likes], and new games don’t do [thing], and that sucks because I like [thing].” The old-game player is frustrated because the games that they want to play either aren’t actually reasonably available to play (no rollback netcode, no ports to modern consoles, no community or event support), or because they want to remain active in the current competitive generation of fighting games, with recent releases that are blessed with majors and streamers and prize pools, and don’t see a game that they enjoy playing as much as the old ones.

Six buttons was created for casuals, actually.

Most of the time these conversations don’t really yield a lot of valuable insight by volume — old game defenders often end up dismissing new games as scrubby and low-skill, new game defenders accuse the old game defenders of sour grapes because they can’t hack it competitively any more, and so on. However, despite that, there is a seed of conversation worth following here: Even though fighting games as a genre are at a high point in terms of the number of high-quality recent releases, the range of game design patterns that yield opportunities for players to express skill in newer games is narrower. It’s not something that’s easy to notice for players who grew up in the newer fighting games, but if you’ve lived through a couple decades of the genre, it’s pretty easy to see; every game and every character feels like they’re rewarded for a far narrower set of actions and decisions than in older games. The games themselves have been simplified, mostly because fighting game developers have a better idea of what they’re doing, and a lot of the stuff that yielded complexity for the high-end player of older games has been pared down to make the game easier to understand and get into at the lower level.

Early fighting game history was characterized by the SF2-era boom, where fighting games were being churned out at a pace that is probably unbelievable to anyone who wasn’t there to see it; you can just check the timeline over at The Fighters Generation to get an idea of the sheer volume of releases in any given year in the ’90s compared to the ones today, and this list doesn’t even include a lot of notable B and C-tier fighting games that would inevitably become staples of mystery game tournaments decades later. Fighting games were relatively straightforward to make at the time, and allowed developers to build off a success with subsequent iterative releases to add characters, animations, and system refinements over time. No one was making fighting games intended to endure tens of thousands of hours of player competition because no one was good enough at making fighting games or playing fighting games to really know what that would require.

When you’re designing games that heavily stress a player’s real-time physical and mental capabilities, you’re effectively building a sport, and the limitations of the game are largely the limitations of human potential. When you don’t know enough about the game you’re making, or the people who are playing them, to design intelligently to those limitations, you end up making some stuff that lets people do crazy things, and you probably won’t know exactly how crazy it gets until years after the game is out. This is particularly true for games where the input reader is strict, since developing the physical skill required to master some of those crazy things might take far longer than the game itself took to make.

Of course, the fighting game boom was followed by a fighting game bust; the conventional wisdom says that basically the people who kept on playing fighting games during the boom wanted more complexity to master because that complexity is their content. So games became more and more complicated in order to keep their players’ interest, but that made the games harder to get into, which shrank the playerbase, which meant that the existing players’ needs became further separated from the things needed to bring new players in. Fighting games became a genre with a significant barrier to entry in order to have a good time, and so developers either got better at building other things to help new players have a good time (like single-player modes for home console ports) or left the genre to make other games.

SFA3 World Tour helped me get into fighting games. It’s so good.

When fighting games saw the SF4-era resurgence, the developers came back to the genre understanding that they needed to design the games in a way that more reliably led to average video game player to more consistently positive in-game outcomes. New players often had problems getting zoned out indefinitely by fireballs, so game developers made fireballs less effective and built more tools for fireball-specific counterplay. New players would get frustrated if they couldn’t execute special moves, so game developers made input reader shortcuts to make special move execution easier. New players struggled with combos, so developers implemented input buffers to help with stringing inputs together across narrow timing windows. New players got bodied by better players, so developers designed comeback mechanics to prevent a stronger player from snowballing early in a round. Each subsequent fighting game release identified areas where new players would struggle, and developers responded with all kinds of combat design standards to remove option selects, decrease execution requirements, and generally narrow the flow of the game into a series of non-stop high-commitment choices where you’re either Very Right or Very Wrong with less room for nuance.

We’ve been through a couple generations of this by now, and the impact of this work to the genre has been tremendous. On one hand, we have a lot of new players who are getting into fighting games. On the other hand, the kinds of fighting games we’re getting are, generally speaking, often far less interesting to the players who liked the things that the older games do. Video game development is often framed as a narrative of ‘progress’ due to its explicitly technological nature; newer games are just “better” than older ones. Creative work, however, typically resists such narrow framing, especially as it collides with capital. Capital tends to prefer art that appeals to a mass market, artists tend to prefer art that expands on or diverges from what came before, and the two are often but not always in exclusion of each other. In this case, the modernization of the fighting game genre has left a lot of incredibly valuable creative potential — potential that was realized by earlier fighting game developers who often didn’t fully know what they were doing, or, in the case of Melee and Guilty Gear XX, regretted it afterwards — on the table in the pursuit of sales.

It should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with my work that I count myself among the players who are dissatisfied with modern fighting games. To me, the value of fighting games is in going through the process of learning to do things you could not do before. I think that fighting games contribute more to the world when they have lots of hard stuff for a player to do; as a developer of fighting games, I want to give the world more hard things to do, and as a teacher, I want to help people learn to do them. Making fighting games easier is like making an Everest 2 that’s like half as tall and telling people to go climb that one instead. As such, I usually buy all the new fighting games, play them for anywhere from ten to one hundred hours, and then get bored and go back to playing the games I like, since I still have a lot of stuff I want to learn how to do in those games.

I promise to make a fighting game that hates you. You’ll probably love it. (Thread here.)

This is, of course, a personal value judgment; most people who spend sixty bucks on a fighting game aren’t looking for a lifelong obsession, and most developers just want to make a cool game that sells enough to make another one. Video games are expensive to make, and that capitalist exchange is fundamentally at the center of our activity. But if you stick around the genre long enough, the showiness of the cash prizes and the excitement of big tournaments fades to background noise, and you have to ask yourself what it is that keeps you spending thousands of hours and dollars on playing the games.

Thanks, Ama.

I often use music as a metaphor when describing various aspects of fighting games because I think it conveys the right amount of subjectivity; anyone can like any music for any reason, and people who argue about musical taste are usually self-conscious enough to understand that arguing about taste is pointless for anyone other than nerds who use those conversations as a way to bond with each other.

Modern fighting games have largely undergone a multi-generational process of transformation into pop music. Fighting game developers are “better” at their jobs than ever before, but the improvements are largely confined to making fighting games a more consumable product. Pop producers will sample liberally across genre, but the fundamental logic of pop music is easy to consume. Perhaps it is necessary work in order to continue the genre’s existence, but if you grew up alongside fighting games, it’s like growing up with Biggie and Tupac and then seeing a future that is only Drake, or being raised on rock and roll and then seeing only Imagine Dragons or Nickelback. At least with music, it’s not hard to dig deeper in those genres to find less-produced work; with fighting games, us pop-averse players don’t really get many new games for us at all.

So while the discourse around “old game good, new game bad” very rarely yields any productive outcomes, I find it symptomatic of a very real issue. In the same way that the first boom of fighting games led to a spiral of increasing complexity that made it hard to grow, this current boom of fighting games is spiraling into pop accessibility in a way that I think will make it hard to stay. I got stuck on this genre in the early ’00s, where we got Street Fighter III: Third Strike, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Capcom vs. SNK 2, Super Smash Brothers Melee, and countless other genre all-timers that are still being actively played today because they’re just that deep. 20+ years on, I’ve learned that we didn’t know how good we had it back then, and that a game that good only comes along about once every ten years or so.

I truly am happy for new fighting game players; everyone should be blessed to find a fighting game that clicks with them, and while I will forever sing the praises of the games that I specifically love, I think that everyone should find games to devote themselves towards. I don’t think many of the pop games out will far outlive their marketing sell-by dates, which kinda sucks — the Backstreet Boys can still fill an arena, even if everyone there has to be in bed by 9PM. I do believe that people should play games they can see themselves playing forever, but when you’re new to the game, you don’t really have the perspective to see that yourself. (After all, the game that got me deep into the genre was the original Capcom vs. SNK.)

But the phenomenon of fighting games is not limited to the capitalist cycle of large-scale game development. The community you find and build with others, the feeling of growth you cultivate, and the sense of purpose you may find in your fighting game practice are not confined to pop. We are lucky to have the grassroots holding it down in small pockets here and there; old men faithfully running CvS2 monthlies in game centers that still smell like cigarettes years after the ban, queer zoomers in Discords raised on Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code and Guilty Gear XX Accent Core +R. And new fighting game players eventually become old fighting game players who crave more than just another strike-throw rehash.

Pop may bring the people in, but eventually people who want to stick around will want something that hits a little deeper, and I think these “old game good” conversations are ultimately a reminder that our genre has a richness and depth that is fundamentally anti-commercial, and an audience for games that embrace this instead of run from it is actually growing over time as the pop devs continue to bring new players in. To me, a healthy multigenerational fighting game community looks a lot less like Evo and a lot more like Combo Breaker, and I think that the true potential of fighting games as a genre cannot be fully realized without building up the space for games that are just made for a couple sickos instead of an audience of millions.

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-patrick miller



Patrick Miller

a little bit miyamoto musashi, a little bit yoga with adriene.