It’s a great time to be a fan of the mid-2000’s era of fighting games: Following the news that Digital Eclipse has begun talks with Capcom and Disney to produce a new release of Marvel vs Capcom 2 in response to the #FREEMVC2 social media campaign, Fightcade has released the much anticipated Flycast update for GGPO online play making NAOMI arcade games like MVC2 easily playable online for free with just a PC and an internet connection (and you should totally tip developer Flyinghead for his work on that, by the way). Which begs the question for anyone already invested in playing games on Fightcade: why should we even care about a new port of MVC2?

Other fighting games have been in similar situations with the Neo Geo and CPS arcade boards are emulated to a great degree of accuracy through Final Burn and Fightcade has provided a pound-for-pound better experience than the official takes on emulating these games with online multiplayer (a must-have for FGC support) in many instances. Digital Eclipse specifically has a bad track record in producing retro re-releases that people will actually buy. I got the Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection for free on Epic Games Store and I still think I deserve compensation for that experience.

So what can you do? While I often see these releases met with skepticism on social media for reasons that seem obvious to anyone in the know, the reaction from the crowd simply does not change the trend that publishers like Capcom and SNK continue to release and see sales returns on retro re-releases. Nobody in the FGC spreads the gospel of Ultra Street Fighter II owing to a myriad of issues that prevent it from being a true competitive title in the long line of SF2 iterations, but it still sold 500,000 copies. The enthusiast crowd represents but a sliver of the overall market for established IPs and legacy titles.

Capcom is acutely aware of the latest and greatest in emulation technology. Undoubtedly they have seen that Fightcade is enabling people to play the NAOMI/Dreamcast era of Capcom games that have languished without official ports for many years. Because emulation has beat them to the punch, they will want to cash in on releasing these games to capture the audience of casual gamers or console-only gamers that Fightcade cannot reach. I expect to see an MVC2 port and further I wholly expect to see Power Stone, Project Justice and more to follow within the next few years as the demand for these titles grows. With this in mind I have the option to simply say I do not trust Digital Eclipse with MVC2 on my Twitter, but I will instead write about the things I think a fighting game port needs to succeed in 2021 in the hopes that these talking points become more commonly shared feedback to fighting game developers. What does a fighting game port need to capture the community’s support?

In case you missed it Digital Eclipse studio head Mike Mika spoke at length about his team would do given the chance to release MVC2 again and emphasized that talks are happening between Capcom and Disney to give someone the green light.

Get the netplay right for competitive play

I held on to hope that the Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection would deliver on great online play for the first five mainline games in the franchise, but reality quickly set in on release.

Fightcade’s platform for games is bare-bones at face value: In terms of online play you can play head-to-head matches in a common lobby on a per-game basis, and other players can spectate your matches. The online play uses rollback netcode and port forwarding is taken care of without user interference in most cases. You can play the game in offline play as the game originally played if you wish. You can also view replays. These features sound like an obvious laundry list of desirable fighting game features, but we continue to see developers leave out most of these features for retro ports and I want to highlight the issue with leaving out spectating.

It is undeniable the amount of influence that streaming has on promoting games. Within that sphere of influence is competitive gaming which draws millions of viewers to a variety of events. With Twitch adding the esports category to highlight ongoing competitive streams it is safe to say that people want to watch competitive play. Which is why it baffles me that we continue to see fighting game releases without spectator modes. SNK’s collaboration with Code Mystics has resulted in my favorite way to play Samurai Shodown V Special and  The Last Blade 2 owing to their excellent online play and presentation, but the community is unable to take advantage of these platforms for competitions and this leads to the loudest voices in the community telling people to “just use Fightcade, and buy the Steam port to support the developers”. While I agree with buying them because I like the ports, I cannot help but feel SNK is missing out on a healthy player base by forcing competitive players to look elsewhere. This is compounded by the fact that SNK offers an eSports Support Program which I find really great but very limited in scope because most organizers would simply not want to deal with the logistics of working around no spectator support for online tournaments and will opt out of running tournaments for these titles.

Samsho VSP has a perfectly good steam port, but online tournament rule sets will continue to look like this until spectating is added.

One of the most egregious design decisions made for an official fighting game port is found in Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, also by Digital Eclipse. In this bundle we can find 12 games to play from the original 1987 Street Fighter to the late era of pixel art Street Fighter in 3rd Strike. The catch is that only 4 of these games can be played in online multiplayer. You could say there is negligible value at best of netplaying Street Fighter 1, but why did it require modders to add support for Alpha 2? (As an aside that mod also patches in support for Vampire Savior ROMs, so there’s really no excuse Capcom hasn’t gotten back to us on an official version.) This is going back to what I said about Fightcade’s feature set: A laundry list of essentials met with inexplicable limitations in the official releases. It doesn’t help that the rollback netcode present in SF 30th doesn’t live up to the antiquated implementation in Fightcade either.

The good news is that SNK has listened! Code Mystics has teased at the addition of lobbies with spectator support for the forthcoming update to The King of Fighters 98 Ultimate Match Final Edition. With any luck, this new lobby format will be propagated back to the other excellent ports they have produced.

Expand on the original package

KOF97 did not have a training mode in the original release so the Steam port by Code Mystics doesn’t either, but that didn’t stop a fan from using a ROM hack to add it in.

Fighting games are timeless. As people gain more appreciation for pixel art games in the era of 4K high-fidelity graphics games with truly timeless art like Marvel vs Capcom 2’s mashup of Capcom’s best pixel artists stand out even more and gain a second wind of appeal for their nostalgic styles. What has certainly not aged well about most retro fighting games is the lack of training mode options and limited side content beyond an arcade mode – after all that was the only other necessary component next to multiplayer during their development cycles. While the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection has a number of missteps (including the extremely bizarre decision to not allow some games in the bundle to be played online), the ability to enter training mode for many classic games without the need to boot up flawed Playstation 2 ports or load training mode scripts in an emulator is certainly a boon. If the game is going to be picked up by the competitive crowd with the online play features I previously mentioned it should likewise expand on the tools given to learn the game all these years later.

Side content offerings in fighting games is a historical weakness in the genre but it feels like a no-brainer for an MVC2 re-release to have official support for the “ratio system” as an alternate rule set for online play. It would provide an alternate meta to an otherwise well-studied game. Or how about combo trials? Character tutorials? Remixed arcade mode challenges? There’s room to grow here, especially since MVC2’s Dreamcast port was arcade-perfect but otherwise lacking in content.

The Supercombo Wiki has a page detailing how the ratio system is applied in MVC2, and check out the trailer for Bankbank’s ROMhack that enforces the rules for Justin Wong’s ratio system in the game for you!

I will make an aside to acknowledge that incorporating development art, arranged soundtracks and documentary materials like interviews are genuinely well-done in cases like the Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection which had an a staggering amount of exclusive material. I’m all for that kind of preservation, and I hope ports continue this trend.

Make the game more accessible

The technically savvy readers among you will probably find the limitations to Fightcade’s platform trivial to work around. After all there’s a tool for everything these days: Training modes? Lua scripts. Dummy recording? Eddienput. Frame data? Wikis, duh! But these are all supplemental tools to get around what the game doesn’t offer you out of the box and only if you have the PC and know-how to do so. Personally, I’m very happy to sit down at my PC and play hours of MVC2 on Fightcade (I’ve been doing so in-between writing sessions for this article) but my preference is not universal. What must be said (and will likely cause my FGC friends to grimace at the thought) is that fighting games and videogames in general don’t scale to the Fightcade model. Undoubtedly thousands of players log in every day but when it comes to expanding the appeal of fighting games to millions it is necessary to meet them where they are: On their gaming consoles and the digital marketplaces.

Countless newcomers will experience fighting games for the first time via console or mobile phones (yes, even MVC2) and the companies behind this will no doubt wish to capture the market as I mentioned at the very beginning. This is not a bad thing! If the port is lives up to the expectations of the enthusiast crowd not only will there be an active player base but the community will actively recommend purchasing & playing it. I am personally happy to purchase a well-made game port or not. What I must acknowledge in the same vein is that preservation is important, and these releases do not justify any efforts to shut down playing the original versions of the game via community emulators.

I will reaffirm my position: The ports are coming whether we like it or not, and now is the time to tell developers what we want.

Share your thoughts on modern fighting game ports through the SuperCombo Forums thread.

Bonus: I wasn’t kidding about MVC2 on phones. Here’s a Thanos infinite performed on the iPhone port which is probably impossible to play today.