Last night, my Ryu was a force of nature.
Used more aggressively than I normally play, he was a furious dervish of pain distribution. It took some doing, but after finally settling into an all-night blueprint of all stun, all the time, I purposely built his meter for one thing: fear. Fear of a Denjin fireball that would grant me and instant free combo and an almost un-earned match win. Fear that fights would end after dizzying well-placed overheads. Fear that, once this Ryu knocked you to the ground, there was no way for an opponent to recover in time, no matter how far the hurricane kick sent them flying across the screen. This new stick I bought a week ago had been broken now, and it was time to unleash its torturous potential.
It was some of the best Third Strike I’ve played in weeks.
I’m mean, I had to kill time somehow, right? Yes, you’ve probably heard right that the Street Fighter V beta has been an almost universal bust over the past 15 hours or so. After letting players sit on the client for almost a week, getting past the title screen was an exercise in unrequited patience. From 9:00 pm EST until the second I wrote this sentence, it hasn’t changed. You might see a giant red “V” on your television at this moment, but that’s probably going to be it save for a blank screen and an error message.
Twitter and fighting game forums, naturally, went a little ape. One user joked that this beautifully stark title screen was his biggest rival so far in the beta. Others, almost in unison, quipped that “Capcom only had one job.” Many moaned that they were being robbed of something, and that this beta should be extended to compensate the time lost and the sleep missed. But others, including USG’s own Mike Williams,were the calm voices of reason: This is a beta. Things never go according to plan. If you need proof, just ask the few, proud, and ludicrously optimistic that sign up for MMO early access. Remember that this is a test with a demo’s coat of paint, but it was designed to be a test first.
Let’s set your wayback machines to 2008 for a moment. The PC community had thriving online play with a variety of MMORPGs, console players were finally getting a real taste of competitive network gaming with the onslaught of Call of Duty and its competitors, and brief, shimmering moments of fighting game brilliance could reliably be played online with either Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix or GGPO on a PC tweaked just right. But these last two examples are almost singular. 2008 wasn’t quite the bacterial phase of fighting game’s online evolution, but it wasn’t too far off. Things could work, and work much better than the gross misrepresentations of online fighting that came before it like Street Fighter II Turbo Hyper Fighting for XBLA that were only a few years prior.
At the same time, Street Fighter IV had hit Japanese arcades and was being readied for an eventual home release. This was still a gamble for Capcom. HD Remix had done well, and according to their producers a little better than expected, but Capcom was a company struggling with the transition to HD consoles in the past generation, and sinking money into a long-dormant franchise was something of a long bet, however welcome it would have been for the fanbase.
I can’t stress enough how miraculous it was that both of what I just said above were properly married together, and how much the Street Fighter franchise and the fighting game community as a whole, now in a decided renaissance, owes to having a brand new game in a genre’s flagship franchise launch with stable, reliable online code. Finding an arcade in the United States at the time was like discovering plutonium deposits in your back yard, and Capcom knew that the real reason to play any competitive video game is to get people to play it together, so that’s exactly what they did. Street Fighter IV launched with good netcode, especially for the time, and for as good or lousy as you think the game is, if people weren’t able to play it across networks, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The most you would be seeing of Ryu these days would be in cheap cash-ins like Capcom Fighting Evolution. The internet, in this case, saved the video game star.
This beta, for lack of a better word, sucks. I wanted to be learning the game like everyone else right now, and I wanted to give you as much of an in-depth reaction as I possibly could after a whole night of playing the game along with crowds of my kindred online players. I brewed a pot of coffee. I bought a new stick. I even called my cable provider to up my internet speed to be absolutely sure. By 10:30 last night, I was keeping a stream of consciousness track of things I was doing while waiting for word that things were up and running. I had Twitter and SRK forums constantly refreshing on my phone for updates. I had started playing Third Strike on my PS3 almost out of spite. Finally, by midnight, I had a few drinks and went to bed. All of this is good. All of this is how it should be.
Another constant refrain from the various forums was that it was better that this happened now than at launch, and I cannot agree with that sentiment more. The beta, again, was meant to do two things: 1- test the netcode and 2- test the content delivery system tomorrow night. The first test failed, is still failing. Nobody at Capcom probably got any sleep last night, and Ono has been sending out embarrassed and apologetic tweets for about a dozen hours now. Perhaps they didn’t account for such large traffic for a buy-in beta test, or maybe they really do have crappy servers running this stuff over at the Capcom Fortress of Doom. Really, though, who cares? They’ve found that there have been flaws, and these flaws are going to be fixed. If they’re not fixed by the time the beta period ends –again, one of three scheduled beta tests for the game—it would certainly be a kick in the teeth to the fans, but in the long term, this failure on their part was an ultimate success. They can go back to their little labs and solve the problems, and long before the game is scheduled to be released.
Yes, this beta sucks, but it sucks for absolutely the right reasons. You can be angry at Capcom if you want because that’s your prerogative. Your ire is noted, but unnecessary. Capcom has extended the beta phase whenever the serves do go back online. If that doesn’t happen over the next few days like it was planned to, then there’s nothing wrong with being disappointed. I’m definitely a little let down, myself. But this, too, shall pass. This is a screw up, not a screw job. In a year, when we’re four months into figuring out the best use of V-Triggers and poring through frame data, we’ll be happy it went down this way and not in March of 2016, and all of this will be the smallest footnote in Street Fighter V’s ultimate legacy, whatever that becomes.
If anything, feel badly for the fans around the world that stayed up way past their bedtime so that they could be met with blank screens and mounting sadness. Our hearts go out to you, friends. For now, go back to your regularly scheduled gaming over the next few days and keep an eye on both Capcom’s Twitter feed and right here at USG for any updates. We still want to talk with you, and we sure as hell want to play some games with you. For now, we’re just going to have to wait. Which, you know, sucks. But good sucks.