FOOTSIES — fighting games, distilled
Footsies. This is a term that, outside of the fighting game community, doesn’t seem to mean a lot. Well, it’s kind of a weird word, right? Foot, footsie. According to Infil’s superb fighting game glossary, “footsies” is defined as:
A complicated, often nebulous term that refers to the battle for controlling the space in front of you, often by using good pokes. In essence, you are trying to get to a range you like, while trying to deny your opponent getting to a range that they like. How you do this varies wildly based on the game, but it often involves using strong crouching kick attacks to pester your opponent as they are trying to walk around. This dance of playing mind games with your feet is the source of the term’s name.
All fine and dandy. Playing footsies means measuring the space between you and your opponent, while trying to slowly, but surely, find an opening and keep them at a range where your options are better than theirs.
What, one might ask, happens when someone takes this concept and builds a whole game around it? Well, the result is FOOTSIES — Rollback Edition, developed by HiFight, also known for his extensive coverage of fighting game tourneys and just-frame analysis of key matches!
A one-dimensional fighting game
FOOTSIES is as simple as it can get: you just have three buttons — forward, backwards, and attack. No jumps, no crouching, no mixups, no crossups. Just a dance of going forward and back, patiently, trying to get the opponent to whiff, and punish their puny attempts at pressure.
The attack button can be used either alone, resulting in a low profile kick, or together with a direction, triggering a short range knee attack, which is one frame faster than the low kick. There are also two special moves, performed by keeping the attack button pressed and then releasing it, with or without a direction, triggering a donkey kick or a shoryuken (basically, a rising uppercut) respectively. In a rock-paper-scissor kind of fashion, the shoryuken special is invincible on startup, so it will beat any other options, except blocking, but it has a very short range and a long recovery time.
The rules are simple: hit the opponent with a special? You win. Get hit by a special? You lose. The two normal moves can be canceled into donkey kick on hit or block, thus granting a KO in case of a successful connection. However, cancel it on block and be ready for a rude awakening: specials are extremely unsafe, and easily punished.
Speaking of blocking, every player starts a round with three shields. Each attack that connects or is blocked breaks one shield. When a character is left without shields, every attack which connects with them will trigger a guard break state that can be easily confirmed into a special.
There is only one character, so every match-up is even and it’s up to the individual players to get the upper hand on the opponent.
That’s it, that’s the core of the game.
Ah, right, you might have noticed an F icon near the round counters! That’s actually a secret super move that can be performed once per match, whose input is revealed when you clear arcade mode for the first time.
The essence of fighting
FOOTSIES was originally born as a simple game to teach and train hit confirms and whiff punishes. For those that aren’t familiar with the fighting game genre, a “hit confirm” is the process of using a very unsafe move only when a safer move has connected with the opponent. A “whiff punish”, instead, is the process of hitting the opponent after their attack missed the target completely, leaving them completely open.
The first iteration of FOOTSIES ran on Android devices, and used a split screen setup to allow two players to share the same device for facing against each other.
The Steam version of the game, launched one year later, included many additional features and a functional rollback netcode based on HiFight’s own implementation of GGPO in C#. This allows for hosting lobbies and matching against friends around the world with minimal overhead.
A complete set of training tools
FOOTSIES — Rollback Edition gives access to a wealth of training tools, such as a whiff punishing challenge (that my old bones are too slow to complete, because I swear I cannot react in less than 19 frames — circa 300ms), in which the opponent will move back and forward for a random amount of time, before attacking you with the wrong spacing, ready to be punished.
There is also a hit confirm challenge, where you have to decide if to cancel into a special or not, depending on whether your attack connected with the opponent or was blocked respectively.
There are also options to show hitboxes, inputs and frame advantage, thus allowing players to study how or why they were hit by that attack that couldn’t possibly have connected. Essentially, FOOTSIES is a great tool for newcomers and veteran players alike to learn how the basics of fighting games “tick” and to hone their skills, in a minimalistic, controlled environment. The fact that it doubles as a game in its own rights is a plus that enriches its purpose.
Arcade mode, or the frustration of learning to know your enemy
FOOTSIES arcade mode is brutal, if you don’t know what you are going to face. Panda Global made some top players try themselves at it “blind”, and you can witness it in all its glory thanks to a compilation YouTube video. Suffices to say that Justin Wong broke the AI nonetheless, but, come on, he is THE Justin Wong after all (for those not familiar with the scene, he is one of the most successful fighting game players in the history of the genre, also remembered for having been on the receiving hand of EVO Moment 37)!
The arcade ladder goes through six different opponents: Spammer, Blocker, Ordinary Guy, WhiffPunisher, OneHitMan and the dreaded arcade boss Rollbacker, each with their own AI settings: Spammer will literally spam normals left and right, without even considering the spacing, Blocker will wait, block and punish your specials, forcing you to be patient and first break all his shields; Ordinary Guy is nothing to write home about, except it plays using all tools in the FOOTSIES arsenal; WhiffPunisher will hit you hard every time you use the wrong spacing for a normal; OneHitMan will use only raw specials, and ESPECIALLY the shoryuken, to go through your carefully spaced normals.
Among this merry bunch, Blocker was the one that grinded my nerves the most, but at least forced me to learn how to hit confirm better. Once I dusted OneHitMan, I thought nothing could possibly chip at my patience.
As it turned out, I was completely wrong.
Rollbacker, the ultimate arcade challenge
As the name implies, Rollbacker works on the principles of “roll backs” — which is a fancy way to say that if the game produces a wrong state while waiting for the inputs of the remote player, it will resync by resimulating the game logic from the last known point. Thus, Rollbacker frequently teleports around the screen, as if he was playing with several hundred milliseconds of lag!
Rollbacker symbolizes what can go wrong with rollback netcode in very lag-heavy situations, where the packet loss and ping is so huge that it is impossible to keep a smooth experience.
Rollbacker makes it hard for the player. His movement pattern is at times unpredictable, hits become blocks and successful punishes become punishes for him. Every hit is a rollback away from being denied.
Plus, Rollbacker is the only opponent who consistently uses the “Secret Technique”™, a short range, dash-bufferable super grab that completely ignores blocking, but can be avoided by back-dashing as soon as the screen flashes and is extremely punishable on whiff.
Suffices to say that Rollbacker will ABUSE this one-per match move while you are in the corner, where it is all but assured that it will connect. After around seven minutes and fifteen attempts at besting him (and almost throwing my controller against the wall), I even resorted to the Ultimate Jutsu (a.k.a. asking Google), without success.
Not having anywhere to go, I just grinded my teeth and went through the hurdles of facing this abomination given life. At the 23th attempt (plus six continues against Blocker and OneHitMan), I finally managed to get over him and earn my secret input for the secret grab super…
… and the first thing I did was running to Training Mode to test my newfound knowledge on the harmless dummy, unleashing my Shun Goku Satsu. Best moment ever. The telltale of this move is the fact that, due to its input, it needs to be buffered to be effective. The AI will always try to hide it inside a forward dash after a whiffed attack, just to pop it out while in your face.
A due premise, though: I am a casual player at heart. Due to personal life, 9–18 daily job, and side-gig as indie fighting game developer, it’s hard for me to pour many hours in grinding one, single game. This difficulty I had in dealing with Rollbacker is just reflective of my own skills (or lack thereof). A friend of mine, who is a bit more serious than me with fighting games (okay, not really, but you get the gist of it), had instead several troubles dealing with WhiffPunisher, while Rollbacker was a cakewalk.
The beauty of FOOTSIES’s arcade mode is that it makes players face some common archetypes one can easily find online: whoever has booted up a random queue for any modern game, will immediately recognize the spammer (a.k.a. button masher), the defensive turtle, the guy who just goes for BIG, unsafe moves, et cetera.
If this was one of FOOTSIES’s goal, I have to say that it was perfectly reached in full.
How to play it?
There are two versions of the game. The original mobile version is available for download for free on the Google Play Store. This free version has only local versus and VS AI mode, and lacks all the bells and whistles of the Rollback Edition version.
The Steam version costs 3.99 USD and includes all the modes I described above, plus a very good online infrastructure for playing against friends all over the net.
If you are a code-junkie or have a fascination for game development, the source code of the original FOOTSIES is available on GitHub under a GPL3.0 license.
Not even one week after writing my story, the developer HiFight pushed a new update, porting FOOTSIES — Rollback Edition to the App Store too and cementing the most impressive cross-play (Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS) I have met in a while for a fighting game. Also… it appears that parries have been added to the mix? I will check it out and report on my findings!
Name of the game: FOOTSIES — Rollback Edition
Developer: HiFight (YouTube channel)
Available on: PC (Steam, Windows/MacOS/Linux), Android (free version), iOS (App Store)
Price: 3.99 USD
Year of release: 2020
Netcode: rollback netcode — PC/Android crossplay
In one sentence: the purest form of footsie-based fighting game. One dimensional, simple, honest, brutal.
If you are interested in more coverage about indie fighting games, you can find me on Twitter at @AndreaDProjects