Hollow Knight Review

I feel like Hollow Knight sits somewhere at the intersection of an older style of game and a newer style of game. Older in that many enemies have contact damage, and simple geometric movement patterns and newer in that the main character and enemies have a significant number of animations, which don’t necessarily have instantaneous startup, and have varied effects across their play time. It leans way more heavily towards the older style however.

The health system is interesting. You have a limited number of hits you can take, and attacking enemies lets you gain souls, used to heal, so only by attacking and killing enemies can you gain a source of healing, which is cool. Feels a bit like what Joseph Anderson suggested BloodBorne was trying to do, and a bit like Doom. The amount of enemies you need to kill to fill it up and the amount of health pips it will heal are not the same, you need to kill more enemies to fill it up than it will heal in pips. Killing enemies when it’s full is a waste, so if you’re down a pip, it’s more efficient to heal first, then kill them, but it take a while to heal, so there’s risk inherent in trying this. Versus stronger enemies you can have a loop of attacking them and pulling back to heal. In boss battles where they have a lot of health, you can go through loops of attacking them and healing when you find opportunities, or shooting them for extra damage. The heal animation is so long that few enemies give you opportunities to heal however.

Using single pips for health lets them keep enemies consistently challenging throughout the game instead of needing to scale damage and health numbers as the game progresses. You start with 5 pips only, can only take 1 or 2 pips in damage each time you’re hit, usually only 1, and are invincible for a bit after taking damage. Across the game you’ll probably only gain maybe 2 extra pips of health (to a maximum of 4 extra pips for 9 health total). This makes a lot of sense for a metroidvania style game that’s trying to avoid much of the grinding elements of other metroidvanias, while still having some elements of progression. Enemies later in the game will threaten your health more by being harder to avoid, instead of having buffed numbers.

Interestingly, you have another ability which requires souls to use, a ranged blast, making the meter a tradeoff between powerful ranged attacks and healing. However if you know you won’t be using a ranged blast, then you can always heal when your meter is full and not suffer much penalty, making it optimal to heal whenever the meter is full, since you’ll fill it up again soon anyway.

Seems like it’s taking the approach of save stations being scattered relatively frequently and teleport stations being few and far between, meaning you need to do some leg-work to get between places. I like this format a lot in metroidvania games. It means you need to plan routes to hit multiple points as you go across the map instead of just planning everything as a trip to and from teleport stations.

It’s interesting how you don’t start with a map immediately, and need to buy the map, the ability to locate yourself on it, and even the ability to update it automatically. You also need to buy the ability to mark it with each type of point of interest you encounter. Kind of interesting, rewards players who are good at keeping a map in their head and steadily lets players build up a map as they die. The map only updates when you sit down at a rest point or die. This is probably to separate it from other games where the map is combined with the marker of your current position, so it’s not just an auto-map showing you where you’ve been with perfect accuracy. Also means before you get to another save point, you need to remember the lay of the land. Since it updates on death, this makes navigating back to your Shade easier.

Your attack has a large, completely disjointed, hitbox, and does not slow you down at all to use. It cannot be canceled on landing like a slash in symphony of the night. The hitbox slightly covers the area above your head, though it doesn’t look it, which is helpful against enemies which may attack there. When you hit, both you and the enemy are pushed back slightly, guaranteeing that you generally won’t trade hits with contact damage enemies, and that enemy patterns will be offset a little, which can significantly change how they move relative to the environment, though this isn’t a big deal for most enemies except the flies that only move diagonally near the start of the game, since most enemies don’t have a lot of environmental interaction. Since your attack has a little cooldown before you can attack again, some enemies can move in on you before this cooldown ends, making it dangerous to keep attacking them. It took me until there were blockades directly above and below me before I noticed you could attack upwards and downwards. Sensible. You can also hit enemies through thin walls and platforms, but notably you can’t cut vines or trigger switches this way.

You unlock additional attacks over the course of the game, in the form of charge attacks for your nail, and additional spells, like an upwards magic blast, and a ground pound (as well as stronger versions of each of these). The charged melee attacks are nice, dealing considerably more damage than a normal strike, but there’s the issue that it plays the “successful hit” sound whenever it’s used, not just on a successful hit, so you can’t really tell if it hit or not, except by the enemy turning orange, which can be hard to see sometimes if there’s a lot on-screen, or if the game decides to lag at that moment. There’s 3 types of charge stabs, one is just a huge hitbox with a bunch of damage on one hit, another is a spinning attack that can multihit, and the last is an extended range charge slash, with a thinner, but longer hitbox, which is useful for reaching far off, but priority, enemies. The upward magic blast hits up to 3 times based on how close you are, dealing a lot of damage with no charge time, but costs magic of course, so it has a unique utility, but I didn’t get much use out of it except in the true final boss fight.

You can use the down stab’s knockback to bounce off enemies or some terrain. This could have been put to better use, giving you more things to optionally bounce off of across the game. It’s used to cross a few pits, which is cool. It’s also useful versus many enemies that attack straight ahead of them, and is a mini timing challenge in of itself to keep your height consistent above the enemy. You can pogo off enemies in the air to great effect, and it resets your air options, which is cool. It’s used in the mushroom area for platforms that can be bounced high off of before you get other movement abilities. This pogo downstab is one of the most dynamic things in the game, considering you need to be mindful of the enemy’s movement below you, both horizontally and vertically, so you can move to stay above them, and stab at the right times to avoid hitting them.

Elevators are always at your current level when you enter a room and will automatically move to your level or the bottommost level if they are out of place.

Getting hit has a considerable hitstop and sound effect in the moment, and you’re pushed back a fair distance too, but in that moment you have way more air control. If you hold forward, you won’t fall off whatever platform you may be pushed off of.

The giant club enemies are kind of interesting. They have 2 attacks, slamming the club in front of them (2 damage) and butt slamming, producing a shockwave (1 damage). The most common attack is the club slam, creating a rhythm of needing to move in, attack, then move out before he hits you, which is already fairly interesting, but then the shockwave needs to be avoided by jumping, working as a reactionary mix-up. Also cool is the club moves him forward, while the shockwave moves him back, so you need to adjust your distance each time relative to where he’s moving. The shockwave moving him back is especially interesting since he’s moving back while threatening you at a range. This enemy is really clever design all by himself, definitely a pattern worth copying. This also means that they can hold their ground instead of cornering you or being driven into a corner.

Minor issue is the animations on enemy attacks aren’t the best, would be nice if they built more with the typical ADSR envelope you might expect. It’s not that hard to learn the timings and hitboxes aren’t attached directly to the position of weapons during swings, so this isn’t jank-inducing, but it’s worth nothing. Similar issue for Focus, it can be a little hard to tell how close focus is to finishing because there’s a lack of visual signals.

The difficulty at the start feels REALLY tame. I didn’t die to any of the early bosses or enemies. Certainly seems to come from the SOTN school of design in that regard. There isn’t very considerate enemy placement of most common enemies.

Most enemies aren’t designed to let you get multiple hits in with good timing or positioning, you usually only get 1 hit per cycle, which is kind of unfortunate.

There’s a separate pause menu and general game function menu, not totally sure why they decided to separate these, as there’s nothing you’d really want to examine or change on the game menu when you’re in a precarious situation, especially since badges cannot be changed except at benches. I think this is just copying dark souls for the sake of copying dark souls, not for an explicit design purpose. Also you can’t unpause with the pause button. Why?

You will respawn to the closest of a few invisible checkpoints placed throughout rooms if you touch a spike or land in hazardous water, sometimes this can be far away, or once I even got to the other side of a pit because of this. I think this is to prevent you from killing yourself on spikes, and to prevent sequence breaks from damage boosting through spikes. This ends up working rather well most of the time, serving as kind of a built in punishment for landing on spikes, placing you back at the start of the spiked area, as is especially obvious in longer walljumping sections in the white palace.

When you die, all your currency sits at the point where you died in the form of a shade resembling yourself. This shade only takes two hits to kill at first, but it scales as you reinforce your weapon. Reminds me of Bloodborne a little and how it would place your souls in the last thing that killed you. It’s half and half as merciful as bloodborne, because now you need to fight the thing that killed you and the shade in tandem, which can be tough, but it also won’t put the currency directly inside the thing that killed you forcing you to overcome something strong enough to kill you, and it doesn’t have bloodborne’s special exception, leaving it as a bloodstain when the enemy is marked as unique, so in some circumstances it can be left next to a really tough enemy. Anyway, this is a unique take on the idea. The enemy itself starts off really weak and is killed with a single blast or two regular attacks, then growing to take 3 or 4 hits to kill. It even learns the same abilities you do, like blast, or ground pound.

Hollow Knight follows the dark souls pattern of one-way unlockable paths back to earlier areas. These can be destructible walls, switch activated gates, crumbling floors, and false walls only destructible from one side. As these are unlocked, the map becomes more interconnected and nonlinear over time.

The moss knights are another standout enemy, but here the animation issue gets a little worse. To beat them you need to whiff punish their attacks, by hitting their shield to trigger an attack that you walk away from and then whiff punish. The trouble is, it can be hard to tell that they’re performing this attack since the windup stance is similar to their blocking stance. Also the windup stance is 1 frame, so you need to measure the length of time in your head for when it comes out instead of seeing it. Fortunately you have enough time to whiff punish on reaction, it’s just that if you try to be efficient you can get the timing wrong and go early. They have a ranged attack, but it’s not very effective. They steadily advance on you, but will occasionally dodge backwards, usually preventing you from getting cornered, though it is entirely possible to get cornered if you don’t fight them according to the pattern above. Though it is possible to fight them in a slightly more interesting way by alternating between attacking them from the front and jumping on top of their heads to attack, which is faster, since it can get around their guard, and slightly more dynamic.

A lot of the more advanced enemies seem to be designed with very discrete timing challenges. This is where the intersection of new-style design and old-style design shows most clearly. The more advanced enemies are essentially about following their pattern to deal damage at specific intervals. You have to do something, they do something, you stand in the right place, move in, get damage. This is very new-style since it’s dependent on the animations of the enemies, but slightly old-style in that they’re asking you to move back and forth between specific positions and attacking at specific times.

They have a tendency to reuse enemy patterns, like reskinning the same geemer enemy for multiple areas. Many enemies will walk slowly, then dash at you, a few different enemies will fire homing projectiles that explode, a few enemies will explode after playing an animation. A few enemies will swing a sword that needs to be whiff punished. A few enemies will float through the air towards you. All the enemies feel like they’re a combination or slight twist on a small group of pre-existing attack styles. They’re not really built to block your way, so you can run past a great deal of them, but you need to attack them to gain currency. They remade like 6 versions of the basic wallcrawler enemy, even a mushroom and bush version.

The game is really long. Like surprisingly long. I got the first ending at 19 hours with 66% completion. Like, I kept expecting to be close to the end or middle and it just had more and more. Pleasantly surprising in this regard. I’m amazed they were able to produce so much unique content, but sad that so much of it is barely differentiated mechanically from other content. Then the post game can be like another 10 hours or so. The economy kind of falls out at this point. I’m running around with 12K geo and 4.5K in the bank. By the time you get access to the ancient eggs, you won’t have anything to spend the geo on.

I normally wouldn’t note this, but the game occasionally has lag spikes when a lot of particles are generated or just when it feels like it, and it can be slow to load some of the larger areas. These problems are not very consistent, but occur more frequently as the game is left running for longer, indicating that there may be a memory leak of some type.

Many areas are constructed of loops, and the connections between the various areas themselves form loops, however the use of one-way gates and powers actually keeps a fairly tight hold on where you’re allowed to go at any point in the game. Around the mid-game when you get walljumping and air dashing and ground pounding you have a fair number of areas you can go to at any given time. In the late game it becomes extremely nonlinear. You have 3 major objectives and far as I can tell, they can be completed in any order, though there are some pre-requisite powers to accessing them. These powers are not found in the same area as the objectives, so you need to search across the world to get access to all of it. They REALLY took their notes on non-linear progression, but also take a really long time to get around to showing it off. By the end of the game the platforming and combat challenges get a lot harder and most are constructed to be difficult from both directions instead of one-way. It uses the structure of shortcut-opening to force you through areas from a certain angle, then opens them up for general two-way use in the late-game. The game itself is really long though, so though it takes a while to get warmed up, there’s a sizable chunk of the game dedicated to pathfinding across the world. This game probably has the actual best nonlinear structure of any game I’ve ever played. Minor complaint is that there’s no way to drop custom map markers a la breath of the wild, to remember spots for later.

The airdash power is, at first, really boring. It reminds me of the teleport from axiom verge. It travels in a perfectly straight line at a higher speed than normal movement. It has some utility for keeping you in the air longer, but it’s a very one-note power without much flexibility. It’s more interesting than the axiom verge version of the power because there’s walljumping in this game, so you can do things like jump off a platform in the air, airdash into its wall, then jump back up onto the platform, and a few collectibles are placed to explicitly encourage this behavior. As the game goes on the airdash gets much more interesting in tandem with the other powers, even if it’s boring by itself. Even the way it’s perfectly straight is really useful for many of the late-game platforming challenges they set up.

There’s a TON of blind drops across the game. From the early areas all the way up to the late areas. You fall too fast to really react and frequently they place hazards below. Many parts of the game just have sheer drops into pits of spikes or hazardous liquid. Having wall jumping lets you slide down more slowly to react, but if you don’t have that, I think they placed those there purely so you’d take damage from not knowing where you were going. Sometimes you need to fall onto platforms above such a pit, but you can’t see far down enough to where they are, and just need to memorize the platform locations. Doesn’t seem very well considered. … Now I feel like an idiot. I discovered much later in the game that holding down or up for about a second will cause the camera to move up or down. It only stays that way until you move though, but I guess it sorta works. Still not so happy about the volume of blind drops.

At the beginning of the game you’ll notice that many enemies do not respawn after being killed and leaving the room, only respawning after multiple rooms have been passed through. As the game progresses, more and more enemies respawn more quickly, with the harder types of enemies usually set to respawn less often. There’s a lot of attention to detail here in how quickly enemies respawn and how many and which types. Additionally, after a certain event in the mid-to-late game, the starting area will change and all the enemies there will become harder. Some paths even start getting blocked off, so now you need to rely on some of the endgame routes you’ve opened up to get from place to place.

They hold out on the double jump for a REALLY long time. Sensible, because of how much double jumps break games like these, but damn.

Late-game combat actually starts getting really crazy, because you can walljump, airdash, and double jump, and there’s flying enemies that maintain their distance from you, so you need to jump out to attack them, and you need to attack directionally in the air, so it can actually get fairly interesting once you have these abilities unlocked, jumping out from platforms to attack enemies, then airdashing back. Dashes and jumps can cancel slashes, so you can use all these abilities in rapid succession. The double jump is actually a bit slower than the walljump, because there’s a slight dip before using it, which helps differentiate it from the airdash and walljump. You can even do things in the late game like be riding a wall, avoiding attacks with walljumps, then jump out to hit an enemy, double jump to get another hit in, then airdash back to the wall.

There’s a larger knight enemy in the late game that shares a bait and slash pattern with earlier enemies, but it can also slash and shield above its head, but you can kill it quickly by alternating attacks from above and the sides.

Enemies with slash type attacks can have their attacks clash with your own if both are used at once. This nullifies their attack, but not yours. This is a timing-intensive tactic that can be used to damage some enemies quickly, but it’s also so tight that it’s very risky. It loses to enemies that slash twice quickly because your sword has a cooldown time.

The watcher knights are really fun. Probably the best boss fight in the game, harder than the hollow knight himself in my opinion. They actually have you fight two of them at once, and you can attack them with whiff punishes, early strikes, or from above, and they can roll out into the air, to counter your aerial attacks.

The lost kin refight is really good, really hard. The startup times on his attacks are short, though not the best telegraphed. He has a bunch of different attacks (dash, airdash, jump, jump then downstab which creates projectiles, swing wildly in place), and the assist from the orange ghosts, which in tandem can be rather dynamic.

Soul Tyrant isn’t much different from the first fight with Soul Master, it just applies the harder patterns slightly more consistently, and attacks slightly faster.

The arena of fools in the late-game has a ton of enemies all thrown at you at once in differing combinations with effective arena design and enemy placement. It’s like a shining beacon of what a lot of the other combat in this game could have been like. The final challenge, Trial of Fools, is really tough and well considered throughout.

The hollow knight has an assortment of attacks and depending on your timing and spacing, you can get varying levels of damage off against him, which makes the fight pretty fun, but probably most notably has no counter option to you down-stabbing him from above. His slashing attacks can be clashed with, adding just a bit more dynamism to the fight, and he makes good use of projectiles and a downwards stab that makes pillar lasers. Once you get shade cloak, he can be free as hell though, because you can just stand in front of him and spam slash, and whenever he does a move, just dash through him.

The Radiance is the true final boss, he’s really cool, does 2 damage on every attack, making him significantly harder than most enemies and bosses. He has a variety of attacks that force you to move and attack intermittently, from walls of spears coming from off the top or side of the screen with smaller and wider gaps to fit through, to spawning homing projectiles, to rays of light in a wheelspoke formation, to spikes on the ground that will alternate between covering one half of the platform and the other, to giant rays of light that must be shade cloak dodged through. He even overlays some of these at the same time, but never certain combinations, so you always have a way to dodge and can’t get checkmated. Since he’s hovering in the air, and occasionally teleports at fixed intervals, you need to move around to hit him, and you need to jump in the air to do so, surrendering some control over your ability to avoid obstacles. Another neat thing is the spacing of the spears. They have obvious gaps to get through, but they’re also just wide apart enough that with more careful spacing, you can fit between any two of them. Once I even did this against the spears coming from the sides using the upwards magic blast. The second phase of the fight repeats these patterns, except on interspersed platforms in the air, so you need to platform while evading the various projectiles, which is a simple change that adds to the complexity of the fight considerably. The final phase is more of a platforming challenge victory lap, but it’s pretty intense from a presentation standpoint, and slightly challenging too.

Though the game really disappointed me in the early phase, in the late phase of the game it impressed me enough to earn a 7/10, where I originally thought I was going to give it a 6/10. The game demonstrates a strong design sense all around in designing enemies that have you perform little positional movements against them and has a low initial difficulty with a slow ramp up to a medium-hard level of challenge. I never died to any boss, except the endgame bosses such as the 3 refights and The Radiance, more than 3 times. My final time was 31 hours with 88% completion. Probably the biggest failing of the game is the enemies are not very dynamic or deep. The game doesn’t like to throw multiple enemies at you in tandem, only occasionally makes use of level design for dynamic challenges with enemies, and the enemy designs themselves usually only have 2-3 attacks, which tend not to vary much based on the enemy’s position in the level, or their position relative to you. This is made worse by the tendency to reuse attacks across the game’s wide array of enemies. However there’s still a lot that can be learned from this game in terms of the overall structure of the world, the gating of progression and how each gate as well as powerup is placed relative to the entire map, the placement of both save and warp points, many components of different enemy’s designs, the map system that is set up to encourage memorization of areas and good spatial reasoning as you’re forced to trek into the unknown, and the way all of the different movement and attack abilities can work in tandem. Hollow Knight is damn clever in a lot of respects, but most of the actual challenging gameplay is only par for the course and not very deep.

Reviewing Mario Maker & User Generated Content

How would you go about reviewing a game like Super Mario Maker?

That’s tricky. Ordinarily for reviews of games, I’d say that user generated content is off-limits, because you’re ostensibly supposed to be reviewing the content of the developer, not the users, because user content can be variable depending on the userbase. However Mario Maker brings that contradiction to the forefront because there’s almost nothing but user generated content. The thing is, Mario Maker technically isn’t a game, it’s a tool for making games, or rather, making levels for a game. The ontology gets a little weird there. Should we consider each level its own game? Should we consider there an abstract generic “Mario Maker” game of which there are many user generated levels, each an instance of this concept of a mario maker game? We can definitely say that the 10-man mario challenge, and the 100-man mario challenge are games within the broader mario maker software. 10-man uses pre-made levels that Nintendo themselves created specifically for you, so if you wanted to evaluate the game of Mario Maker entirely from the perspective of developer generated content only, you could evaluate these pre-set levels and nothing else, and you might end up with a fairly poor opinion of Mario Maker. They’re not very impressive levels. If you wanted to evaluate 100-man, then that gets extremely variable. It’s possible to make tons and tons of different types of levels in mario maker, from auto levels, to kaizo levels, to puzzle levels, to troll levels, to creative themed levels, to more general mario-style levels. That and unlike say Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, Mario is a game that is heavily defined by its level design. There isn’t a generalized set of options you always have access to and enemies don’t have a wide set of options they exercise against you, your options are very heavily defined by what’s present in the level and the interaction of various level elements.

A lot of Journalists tried to review Mario Maker like they would another game, but included user-made levels, coming to the conclusion that very few people would successfully make levels that were as good as traditional Mario levels, so the game was bad. From the outset, this seemed to me to be the wrong way to judge the game. It seemed obvious to me that the game was a toolset, not really a game. Shouldn’t Mario Maker be judged by its competency at bringing a set of tools to users for the creation of levels instead of being judged by the highly random circumstances of 100-man? That doesn’t really fit in the game review paradigm though, that would be like reviewing photoshop more than a specific painting, and the journalist approach to reviewing mario maker was akin to scrolling through the newest posts on deviantart. http://www.deviantart.com/newest/ You’re gonna get a few good things, and a lot of crap. Does this mean photoshop is a bad art program? Obviously not, it’s a world class art program and general image manipulation program, but game reviews aren’t tool reviews, so the traditional review model doesn’t really make any sense in the context of a tool like mario maker.

So how does Mario Maker stack up as a level editor for generic mario? I’d say it’s very robust, but lacks somewhat in functionality, and doesn’t have the best UI overall, like shaking objects to modify them is really clunky, as is stuffing objects inside of other objects. Still, even if the UX isn’t the best, it provides a large number of functions, giving you all the tools you’d need to place elements, copy them, move multiple elements, etc. In an analogy to photoshop, photoshop has a generally really good user interface, but you can see that the tools are good at certain things and bad at others. Photoshop is very good at image manipulation, but it’s weaker at things like painting or sketching compared to programs like Corel Painter or Autodesk Sketchbook, which in constrast aren’t as good at general image manipulation and effects. And all of these programs aren’t as good at generating weird/random imagery as say Alchemy http://al.chemy.org/ They each have unique toolsets that operate within the same possibility space, but makes producing certain types of products a lot easier than others.

But beyond that, unlike photoshop, where the only limitations are every possible image that can be depicted, Mario Maker has unique limitations within the possibility space of all the possible combinations of level elements you can use, and all the possible interactions between those elements. These kind of form the generic game of “Mario Maker” that each level can be argued to be an instance of. Between all of them, can they form the basis of interesting/deep gameplay? Some levels certainly make a case for that, but that’s a really tricky thing to evaluate for reviewers on release day! (or hell, pre-release!) It’s like trying to review Street Fighter 2 the day it comes out, or from a location test. The game has a tremendous possibility for making unique levels that people are still discovering to this day. We can get a pretty good guess of how a fighting game will turn out from a location test these days, because we know what to look for, but doing that without the context of the entire fighting game genre before it is really tricky. To fairly review Mario Maker in this sense, you gotta see how it plays out, let the meta settle.

The other thing is, Mario Maker imposes certain limitations on what it’s possible to create. You can’t totally do the same thing as original mario levels, because Mario Maker levels are limited in length, because your editing capabilities are limited in some respects. You can only place certain items in blocks. You can only autoscroll at certain speeds. You need to stick with the camera behavior they defined. You can only have a maximum of 500 seconds per level, and for an individual level, you cannot define how many lives the player has. Lives only have an effect within the context of 100-man challenges. You can make multiple levels, but cannot link them by any common thread the same way as regular mario levels. If you want to compare to traditional ROMhacking tools, there’s a lot of things you can do in Mario Maker that you can’t do in those, but also a lot of things you can do in those that cannot be done in Mario Maker. Mario Maker stepped it up and created a lot of interactions between elements that didn’t exist in the original games, as well as introducing new elements that exist entirely to facilitate interactions with the other ones.

Do good levels exist in Mario Maker? Yes, absolutely. There’s tons of great levels in Mario Maker that I’ve personally played or I’ve seen other people play. However it took a long time to get to this place, and if you want to play those levels, you’ll need to rely on communities outside the game to help you find those levels (And you’ll need to follow the right level creators in Mario Maker itself, discovery and curation options inside MM are really terrible, as are your bookmarking options).

Is Mario Maker a good game? Can we give mario maker a rating out of 10? I don’t think that’s something that you can conventionally do. I’d give the levels pre-packaged in the game maybe a 5/10 or 6/10, but I don’t think you can give a whole community of level creators a score. At best you could review individual levels, but that’s its own thing with its own rules and standards. I think this falls outside the purview of traditional game reviews and all I can say is, there’s good things to find there for those who seek.

Fake-out Attacks

What do you think of fakeout attacks? (Both when enemies use them in single plaher action games, or other genre’s, and in multiplayer fighting games)

Enemies using fakeouts in single player games:
I can’t think of a reason to use this off the top of my head. From the player’s perspective, it’s like the enemy randomly attacks or doesn’t. This creates the situation where the enemy uses the fakeout attack, and the player can safely attack them, but randomly sometimes they’ll actually do it, so they’ll trade hits with the player. Beginners might get scared by the fakeout attack, but intermediate will realize it’s basically just an animation where they do nothing important, so they can be attacked.

Maybe it would make sense in a game where enemies attacking requires an action that costs something from the player, and there’s a tell between the real and fakeout attack. Like in Furi, fakeouts would mean you can’t parry the next incoming attack, so if you made a system similar to this you could have the mixup between fakeout or not, then maybe a small reaction period for you to realize you’ve been faked out to let you dodge or something. Similar was used in the Mario and Luigi RPGs, where enemies would sometimes fake you out, so you’d jump over incoming attacks that weren’t coming, setting you up to be hit by the followup.

Oh, one example was the fakeout groundpound that Soul Master does in Hollow Knight. Basically, he’ll teleport to your position and pound the ground, creating a shockwave that needs to be jumped over, but sometimes he’ll teleport, then teleport again. This means you need to be moving to the left or right when he does it to avoid the pound, but also jump early, which means that if he does the fakeout, you gotta react to it, let go of jump, and then jump again and move again to avoid the new ground pound. So this is a rather interesting reaction test.

So in single player games, fakeouts are generally a test between your ability to visually distinguish between two similar animations. This is kind of a softer skill than I generally regard as part of a game, because it doesn’t necessarily correlate with game states as I define them, but it is still a skill.

In multiplayer games, fakeouts tend to be gimmicky, not genuinely very effective. Ken’s almost always had a fakeout on his step kicks, allowing you to step up and then kick or not. Far as I know, these don’t see very much use. Ryu in SF2 HDR can throw a fake hadouken, as can Filia in skullgirls with the same input. These have less recovery time, so they’re in theory useful for baiting certain reactionary responses, but in my personal experience, and from stories I hear, they don’t see much use. There is one shining example of fakeout use from Kusoru in this video at 1:31.

He does a few other fakeouts in this video too, using FRCs on his riot stomp, to do another option instead. This is arguably less of a fakeout and more of a mixup. One of his patented tactics is to riot stomp fullscreen, then FRC into grand viper. Riot Stomp hits high, grand viper hits low. Both are easy to block on their own, but when combined this way, blocking can be tricky.

CS:GO added fake grenades. I don’t know how effective these tend to be because I don’t really play CS:GO.

I think based on the case examples I’m aware of that usually if you’re considering adding a fakeout option to a multiplayer game, it’s better to add a mixup option instead.

Smash Bros Move-Staling is Pointless

Any thoughts on move-staling in Smash?

I don’t think it serves a real design purpose. It weakens repeated attacks, which can make the effect of attacks subtly inconsistent, changing the amount of damage, knockback, and shieldstun. The thing is, there’s really no need to make repeated attacks weaker. Making repeated attacks weaker doesn’t prevent any type of degenerate play, it doesn’t encourage any specific tactical plays that are beneficial for the game overall, or add a significant situational factor that can be taken advantage of in the moment like stun.

It mildly discourages using the same move a lot, a tactic that many people would call spamming, but the thing is, there’s nothing wrong with spamming. If using the same move works versus your opponent, then you should keep doing it, not be forced by the system to use other moves to keep your useful moves powerful.

And stale moves can interfere with a lot of things, like it changes the knockback threshold on moves that will cause knockdown versus not, it can change shield stun, making safe on shield moves unsafe.

Thankfully the effect of stale moves in Melee is so small that it can largely be ignored, and PM had the good sense to remove the knockback component of stale moves completely. In Brawl however stale moves had a more extreme effect on knockback, enough that if you played a character like fox, it was recommended you only hit with the second hit of up air to kill, because the first hit would invoke scaling, reducing kill potential. Smash 4 has reduced the effect of stale moves, sitting it somewhere between Melee and Brawl, so it’s probably more tolerable in that game, but in general I don’t think it’s something that has a place in Smash Bros.

In a good fighting game, there doesn’t need to be a regulatory system preventing you from using duplicate moves, because in a good fighting game, using the same move repeatedly is a bad idea because it opens you up to be countered by your opponent.

Notably, Skullgirls has a mildly similar system in its game, the IPS, preventing you from using the same move to start a combo more than once, but of course this doesn’t mean that any of the moves in that game are situationally weaker in the neutral game, it just prevents you from doing infinites and practically nothing else. Using systems like this makes a lot more sense for limiting the length/strength of combos in traditional fighters than anything in Smash Bros, which doesn’t have issues with combo length.

Stale moves just feels like a design loose end trying to fix a problem that didn’t need fixing.

RNG Fighting Game Moves

What do you think of fighting characters that have special moves that change based on RNG (Like Luigi’s missfire, Peaches turnip pull, or anything else you can think of)?

I’m not really a fan, because sometimes the opponent just gets a lucky draw and you lose and oh well. Random stuff basically always does this unless there’s fore-knowledge of when it’s gonna come up ahead of time, which doesn’t completely negate the random effect, but mitigates it somewhat.

There’s a few other fighting game characters that have random effects like that, I can think of Faust, Teddy, and Zappa, from Guilty Gear and Persona 4 Arena. Phoenix Wright too, but the randomness screws him over more than his opponent. Game and Watch has a random effect in smash too, on his judgment hammer.

I mean, I just think all instances of randomness should be replaced by something that is deterministic and can be kept track of relatively easily, but which still looks random to the untrained eye, and has about the same level of frequency in outcome.

Barring that, there’s ways to build more consistent randomized systems, some of which you can see in Project M, some of which you can see in Dota 2.

One thing Project M did with Peach was make her Fsmash totally deterministic, it rotates the 3 possible items each time it’s used. Another thing is making it so Luigi’s next misfire is guaranteed to show up within the next 6 times it’s used, and allowing you to hang onto it. And with Game and Watch, they made it so the judgment hammer cannot repeat the last 2 numbers, and it has a light over it indicating whether the next number is even or odd, so you can stack the odds in your favor

Zappa in Guilty Gear has an ability to summon a ghost, and this is actually dependent on what second the timer is on. Some seconds still produce a random result however.

DotA 2, and a few other games, use what they call a PRNG (Pseudorandom number generator). Technically all games use a PRNG if you want to get really technical, because computers can’t generate random numbers, but that’s beside the point. Basically, when something says it has a certain odds of success, like 25%, instead of it actually having those odds each hit, it starts at a much lower chance of success and that chance increases drastically for each time it doesn’t succeed. This is set up so an ability with a 25% chance will occur roughly 1 in 4 times every time. By doing it this way, they reduce “floods” and “droughts” of a result coming up or failing to come up. People don’t actually have a very good mechanism for understanding random chance, we tend to fixate a little on the odds in the short term, and expect more uniformly distributed results than are actually likely to occur. This system makes it so a 25% chance effect will only very rarely occur twice in a row, and will only very rarely fail to occur after 6 attempts.

My general recommendation is, don’t include random effects if you can avoid it, it usually doesn’t add a lot, even if it’s funny some times. If you feel it’s necessary, find an RNG algorithm that works for you instead of flat % chance.

Storytelling with Software

What aspects of video games make video games a potentially more effective medium of storytelling than “traditional” mediums?

I wouldn’t use the word “Video Games” for this, because, as I’ve mentioned in previous writing, digital entertainment software is a wider medium than just games, and this medium has unique strengths with regards to storytelling that other mediums don’t.

The most obvious thing is that software can easily deliver different bits of narrative content with regards to context. It can have branching narrative content, which is essentially an excess of narrative that is selected between. So rather than telling just one story, in software it’s easy to tell a lot of different possible stories that the writers prepare in advance, as well as replacing or modifying individual elements of these stories.

With software, you can create associations for performing certain actions, then recontextualize those actions in a thematically relevant way. Probably the most significant example of this is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

Software can do advanced calculations on the fly for a lot of things that are hard to implement similar functionality for in traditional media, and it can keep those calculations hidden. For example, you can determine which content to present based on prior user input sampled over a long period, and you can keep the factors that control this presentation a secret, or even that there was a calculation to determine this in the first place.

Another advantage is that in software, you can explore multiple narrative threads and leave the other ones hanging to be resolved later. Also, much like a real life haunted house or theme park, you can create a virtual environment that can be walked around and engaged with and examined at your discretion, so narrative elements can be embedded in the presentation of this environment, a technique commonly referred to as, “Environmental Storytelling.”

And of course, you could include a game within a piece of software, this is the most common use of digital entertainment software.

Software excels at creating places to explore and presenting a multiplicity of stories, along with the convenience to examine the story at your leisure and tie together disparate narrative information in a non-preset order, which is uncommon in other media. It’s like having an fictitious encyclopedia rather than a storybook, where things are laid out across entries that bind together to form a coherent whole, rather than a specific telling of specific events.

Software can say something like “He quickly dashed inside and (hid his [keys] in the [dresser]) OR (grabbed his [gun] from the [coffee table]).” where you can swap out which bit of narrative content actually happens, and change some of the objects of interest within the narrative content. Choose your own adventure books can have the OR, but they can’t swap the objects, and they can’t remember a choice from a prior page and bring it down into a later branch, unless you want to make a fuckton more redundant branches for each of these permutations.

Software can’t let you make “your own” story, but it can tell you many stories instead of one, and it can let you pick between which ones you want to hear.

In terms of maybe not narrative potential, but general artistic potential, software can create links between people, such as Nier Automata’s Ending E, in which players need to go through a difficult sequence, but can be offered help from other players in the form of a powerup that makes the sequence easier. The catch is that this powerup comes at the cost of all that person’s save game data, and you’re offered the same choice to offer that powerup to other players who cannot beat the ending when you reach the end at the cost of all your save data. The powerup is marked with a message from that person and their name, so by getting hit in the ending sequence after accepting the powerup, effectively their last will and testament within the game is being deleted after they’ve already given up their save data.

And I heard of another experimental game where there was a shared stock of lives between all players of the game, and in playing the game well you could earn more lives, but also lose them of course, and if you did really poorly, you might earn more lives for other people to play the game, but once all the lives were gone the game was dead.

To encompass this category of digital entertainment software I’ve come up with the word, “Videoware” recently, and I’d like if it that were to become a thing. The idea is that all digital entertainment software is now under the umbrella “videoware” and “video games” are a sub-category of videoware, with other applications falling into the general category instead, with subcategories for interactive fiction or maybe digital pets or software toys. Under this grouping, we can look at Steam as say a videoware distributor rather than strictly a games distributor. The term might sound a little silly, but I think it would be better for describing our current ecosystem than our current terminology, and it would acknowledge the link between digital entertainment software in general, and games software specifically.

Here’s some examples of stories told through software:

Does a video game need to be a good game to be a good video game? why?

Y’know, I’d take it as a given, but not everyone does, so I think I’m not really going to elaborate on this one.

Can you say why you think it’s a given? like what do you say to people who say video games are their own thing sort of separate from games? they use that to justify the idea that games dont need good gameplay, and that gone home is a good video game even if its not good as a strict game

Currently my position is that entertainment software, which I’m thinking of calling “Videoware” (somewhere between video game and software), is a whole medium, and video games are a subset of that larger medium. Gone home (or Dear Esther really) might be a good “videoware”, but it’s not a video game, the same way Mario or Interactive Buddy aren’t Interactive Fiction, and the latter isn’t a game either.

I like this semantic because I don’t want to say video games are their own separate thing from games. I think the categories should be unified and we understand games, videoware or not, as being the same across mediums. I think we should unify tabletop games and sports and understand them in similar terms too.

I’d say that there are artistic forms that are possible in software that don’t exist elsewhere and perhaps deserve their own exploration, but I’d personally hold that a video game needs to be a good game

Why Dark Souls 2 is Worst Dark Souls

What makes Dark Souls 2 the worst game in the series?

A lot of things. Lets ignore the downgrade and everything involved in that.

Like, a lot of the shit with dark souls 2 was just people being disappointed because they were shown a better product than they actually got.

Probably the biggest thing I’d fault the game for is the return of healing items and Soul Memory. Giving a practically unlimited source of grindable healing was a terrible idea. Upgrading the flask over time made sense, but starting with only 1 flask was also terrible, meaning you’d have almost no healing in early areas where you needed it the most.

Soul memory was an attempt to prevent people from “twinking”, meaning collecting high power gear on a low level character, but it ended up making power levels even more disparate between PVPers, and it punished bad players who replayed areas a lot and lost a bunch of souls. Plus it eventually pushed everyone into the same soul memory tier on top, regardless of how powerful they actually were, and it made co-op with friends way more complicated. Invasions almost never happened (I literally did not get invaded once), it was a total mess.

The netcode was abysmal, somehow worse than the already bad netcode of its predecessors.

For some reason, if you used up all your stamina, you were not allowed to run until it all regenerated to the top, and then some, and if you used up some before it filled all the way, you still couldn’t run. In the other games this debuff only applied if you used up all your stamina by running and in games after this it only lasts to 75%. In DaS1 and DeS, you can undo the debuff by rolling or attacking.

I thought giving mini-bosses multiple lives was a good idea, but then it turned out you could kill any enemy repeatedly to despawn them, so being persistent through a tough level would slowly make the level easier, which is lame. This also acts as anti-grind, since you have a definite limit to how much you can grind, which is sort of good, but in all practical terms it sucks if you just need a few more souls to buy healing or want to get a specific rare item drop, and doesn’t realistically limit people enough to prevent grinding.

Fall Damage is calculated differently. Instead of the distance correlating to a percentage of your HP in damage, instead fall distances just scale a static amount of damage. So you always take the same amount of damage for a given fall distance, regardless of whether you have enough HP to survive it or not. I think this change was made purely to gate off the pit until you’re stronger or can afford the cat ring.

Recovery time relative to IASA frames in Dark Souls 2 is also highly skewed, so that on most attacks, you were negative on hit if you waited the entire recovery time, and positive if you canceled into a dodge or another attack. It’s just kinda weird.

Attacks for some reason have no hitstop, making them feel a lot weaker, and making it harder to tell whether they hit or identify the point of contact.

The adaptability stat was a wash, since it would invisibly add more iframes to dodges.

Then they had poison behave like toxic and drain health quickly, and they still kept toxic for some reason.

Mytha the Baneful Queen was just miserable, both that they decided to make an arena like that in the first place, and that you had to take a torch from the bonfire and set fire to the metal part of a windmill to get rid of the poison. That literally makes no sense.

Some enemies had hitboxes that made no sense, like the grab attack on the ogres, mimics, and a lot of different attacks on all the different giant enemies and bosses.

Vendrick and the ancient dragon were just poorly considered. They have like, infinity HP and will kill you in one hit. Plus the ancient dragon has a few attacks that are pretty much guaranteed to kill you if you’re not careful or if you’ve never seen them before, like him flying in the air and torching everything beneath him. Because of the massive amount of health they have, this fight goes on forever and you can’t take any damage during it.

The way dodges are implemented is really offputting. Instead of having different dodge animations of different speed and different iframes, equip burden affects the distance the dodge will move across, which isn’t actually that useful, since you usually want to have a lot of iframes, but stay reasonably close to enemies while moving around them. Instead, low equip burden in dark souls 2 doesn’t actually affect your iframes at all, it only changes the animation, and now with low equip burden, an attempt to roll around the enemy can move you really far away from them in the process, making it harder to punish enemies with dodge rolls at lower equip burden than at higher equip burden, unintuitively.

An additional weirdness of dodges is that the frames immediately after the iframes have hyper armor, so you can take damage during them. Since there’s no hitstop in this game, it doesn’t clearly register as a hit, it’s sort of like a phantom hit or something that you take damage for even though it seems like you avoided the attack. And the hyper armor makes it seem like you phased through the attack as if you were invincible, but you take damage anyway. This is especially disconcerting versus grab attacks, since you can appear to dodge them, then it catches you on the hyper armor frames and you teleport into the grab animation.

And the way you move around is just weird. You can sort of spin in place without moving, unlike the other souls games, and you won’t run if you’re up against a wall. I have no way of summing up how weird it is.

The jump is also kind of weird, but it has tradeoffs. Unlike in the other games, it’s actually a jump, but it’s a really small jump, but you can get way more distance off it. The downside is that sometimes you can get a “baby-jump” that doesn’t go anywhere. Nobody knows what causes this, people just know that it’s not random, but it happens without any known cause.

Beyond that, the game is just underwhelming in terms of its content. It didn’t really go out of its way to deliver masterful levels or enemies or bosses, they’re just average generally. It doesn’t have Dark Souls 1’s lows, but it also doesn’t have its highs. It’s more consistent, avoiding gimmick bosses, but the bosses & enemies aren’t amazing all around, just average.

Sure a lot of Souls question lately huh? Jumping on the bandwagon by bumping an old question of mine (DeS’s strong points and if it does something not completely outdone by its sequels) and asking more insight on DaS2’s animations and why people call them clunky, floaty and other buzzwords.

Sorry, I’m pending a replay of DeS to answer that one. Intuition tells me it holds up, I’m 90% certain, but I doubt my recollection.

I’d say primarily the issue with DaS2’s animations is that attack animations have a really long recovery compared to other games in the series. I just tested it and their IASA frames kick in really really late, and unlike the other games, don’t vary the IASA timing based on whether you hit an enemy or not (in Dark Souls 1, many weapons would take longer to recover on whiff than hit, in DaS2, they take the same amount of time regardless). Also it all feels kinda weird because it’s the first time From experimented with animation blending instead of just canceling the animations, so there’s an unnatural smoothness to the recovery as one animation leads into the other instead of a snappy instant response to let you know it’s totally done.

The other weird thing is that with a lot of weapons, you’re actually minus on hit. Your recovery animation is longer than the enemy’s hitstun animation, which is really weird feeling. So if you hit them, then try to walk away, you can actually get punished for that. This means you need to either spend stamina on dodge rolling out of the way, or use the weapon’s combo cancel point to do the next hit in the weapon’s combo, which will then put you back in the same situation of being minus on hit again. It’s weird, doesn’t feel right.

I think the reason they did this was to make whiff punishing more viable in PvP, just a guess, but it has weird consequences on the PvE.

That and the animations just aren’t as high quality. They’re serviceable, but not great. Not as much exaggeration as the other souls games, which is part of what helps sell the weight of the different motions. During the roll, your character moves at a constant rate and seems to glide across the ground, augmented by how the roll distance scales depending on your equip burden, so it’s playing the same animation scaled to different lengths than it was originally animated for.

Plus the way you accelerate in general is just weird. I can’t even describe it. Like, semi-rapidly rotate your stick, and instead of running around in a circle, you’ll be stuck in one place spinning around a central point. They changed something about the way walking itself works, and there’s so many possible ways they could do that, and it’s such a subtle thing, I can’t tell exactly what it is.

The Majesty of Dark Souls 3’s Backstab

Can you explain how the backstab mechanic is different in the Souls games and why you think 3 has it best?


Backstab works basically the same in Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. If you’re behind the enemy, standing within a certain area, and press R1, then at that moment both you and the enemy will play a joint animation where you backstab him. During this animation you’re both invincible. It’s sort of like a 0 frame throw in old versions of street fighter. Oh, and you can’t backstab if your shield is up.

This meant that backstab, no matter what weapon you had, was essentially instant and inescapable. Your only defense was preventing the enemy from getting behind your back at all. Backstabs were more powerful than regular attacks, so a lot of PVP was just about backstabbing and avoiding backstabbing.

In Dark Souls 2, they decided to mess with backstabs a little. Instead of instantly going into the combined animation where you’re stabbing them, they gave you a little punch animation first. This punch was unblockable and would cancel on hit into the full backstab. If it missed then nothing else would happen. This is a bit more like a modern fighting game throw. You have a chance to roll out or walk away before getting hit by it. This significantly reduced the role of backstabs in PVP, while keeping them viable. Backstabs were still really powerful in PvE however. Also from a thematic standpoint it’s kind of weird that you punch the guy then stab them, didn’t really match the prior games.

In Bloodborne it seems like they REALLY didn’t want anyone to fuck with backstabs at all. In order to get a backstab, you needed to charge your R2 attack all the way up and hit the enemy in the back with it, much like the positioning for backstabs in the other games. Then they’d become vulnerable and you’d get to do the 0frame throw thing for a ton of bonus damage. So overall you were getting a lot more damage out of successful backstabs in bloodborne, but it was a lot harder to set them up mid-combat, and they were now basically completely irrelevant to PVP.

In Dark Souls 3, they clearly wanted to have backstabs match demon’s souls and dark souls 1, and to do this they assembled a mechanic that’s practically a work of art. Basically, when you press R1 within the activation range, instead of directly entering a joint animation with the enemy, you’ll instead play a specific backstabbing animation. If the enemy stays close to you, then at a certain point in this animation, there’s an invisible unblockable hitbox that comes out that forces them into a joint animation with you, canceling whatever they were doing, and canceling your lone backstabbing animation into the joint backstab (using animation blending). If they aren’t in range of this hitbox, then you’ll just continue to play the lone backstab animation, which functions as a regular (slower) attack basically. So you smoothly either get a backstab or just stab without needing to punch them first like dark souls 2, and without an instantaneous startup like DaS1 and DeS.

Enemies that Dodge and Block

What do you think of enemies that can block or dodge your attacks?

It can be kind of tricky to get this right. Dodging especially. Like, the question is obviously, when should enemies dodge? Should they dodge when you attack? How often? If they only dodge right when you attack, then the dodge is kind of guaranteed, but also kind of like, “Okay, we feel like you shouldn’t get damage this hit because we felt like it, rolled some dice and you didn’t come up lucky”. So for all effective purposes, sometimes your hits just don’t deal damage. This is lame naturally, but this is how dodges in say Dark Messiah, and God Hand work as well as maybe a few other games. It does from a superficial standpoint make the enemies look more intelligent however.

The Souls games have enemies that can dodge too, but it is a randomly utilized part of their moveset rather than something they choose to do in reaction to the player. So they can dodge at bad times or good times and their dodges can be punished.

Curse of Issyos did a similar thing to this with blocking (look up footage and you’re bound to see it). Many enemies have shields that can block you, and when you hit them it’s decided randomly whether they are gonna block or not, so it’s as if they have way more health than they’re actually supposed to have. Sometimes you kill an enemy in 2 hits, sometimes it can take like 10 even though the enemy only has like 2 health. This is total nonsense.

Halo 1 did a SUPER clever thing here. They have enemies that dodge out of the way of your bullets, but they only do it in response to you successfully shooting them first, and they’re vulnerable for the entire dodge. So rather than enemies just deciding to dodge a bullet right as you shoot, they’ll dodge after being shot a little, so your first shot is always successful, and then you have this minigame of trying to trace them as they dodge.

Souls again has the correct solution on blocking here, enemies are programmed to block for periods of time or when they’re not attacking, and you’re given anti-block options like kicking and usually get a ton of damage if you do this successfully.

Basically, make blocking and dodging behaviors consistent and predictable, and give players a way to counter them.

Making Effective Counter Moves

What do you think of counter moves in fighting games? (Those in the smash games, cross counter, ect.)

I believe Mike Z made a good statement about those, counters shouldn’t have a distinct animation to them, because nobody’s gonna hit you if they see you in the stance, which is why Valentine in Skullgirls has a counter with no animation until she’s hit.

Counters are kind of like a worse dragon punch. They will beat any attack that hits them, but only if you do it at the same time they attack. The difference is that a counter will not attack afterwards like a dragon punch will, so it will not hit an opponent unless they attack. A dragon punch can be used to beat things like jump-ins or dash-ins, but a counter only works in those contexts if the opponent attacks afterwards. A dragon punch can punish a commitment that isn’t necessarily an attack, but counters only punish attacks.

And because you strike the counter stance, you are telegraphing to your opponent not to hit you, so to be effective with it, you need to go for that hard read that they will attack and not do something else. And if you can read them every time, that works great, but versus good opponents, they’ll realize after you do it twice that you’re trying to counter bait them, and start moving in without attacking, or using grabs instead of attacks. Dragon punches require tighter timing and are more punishable than counters, but they’re much more reliable as a tactic in high level matches.

The actual counter attacks work differently per-game. Sometimes they nullify incoming damage (Marth, Kolin, Valentine, Hakumen), sometimes they take incoming damage as super armor (Dudley in 3s & SF4), sometimes you’re given temporary health versus incoming attacks (Alarak in HOTS).

Sometimes you’re given full invincibility to any followup attack (Marth, Kolin, Valentine, Hakumen), sometimes you just have hyper armor during the counter attack (Dudley in 3s), sometimes the protection is only partial (Marth’s iframes wear off rather quickly, beating multihits, but not projectiles followed by melee).

Sometimes the counter hits a massive area to guarantee it beats long pokes (Leo Whitefang, Hakumen, Valentine), Sometimes the range is more limited and it can be baited out with the right hit (Dudley, Marth), Sometimes it pulls the opponent in like a hitgrab (Zangief in SFV S2.1, Kolin).

Sometimes you have an actual hitbox that catches enemy attacks (Marth has a large shieldbox for his counter that doesn’t cover his feet, Kolin’s V-Skill catches based on a hitbox, Hakumen has a catch hitbox for his D moves), sometimes it counters if the character is hit at all (Valentine, Dudley SF4, Leo Whitefang), sometimes it only catches certain types of attacks (Kolin, Rock & Geese, Zangief, Dudley 3s)

Sometimes you get followups off it (Hakumen), or it just does a lot of damage (everyone else).

The differences in implementation can make these counters more or less effective depending on the game. Marth’s is still useful for edgeguarding certain opponent’s up B moves, assuming they don’t sweet spot.