Stay-at-home orders have revealed a lot about the netcode of various games. While some have seen booming popularity, other games have struggled as their particular netcode can't maintain a healthy player pool. One Super Smash Bros. game just got a boost to its netcode to make long-distance matchmaking better, but it's not the one you'd expect.
Super Smash Bros. Melee players have been able to compete online for a while due to emulators like Dolphin. But an update to online service Slippi today is expanding the matchmaking pool even further thanks to the use of rollback netcode.
The differences between delay-based and rollback netcode can get complicated, and there are plenty of excellent explainers, but the essence is that rollback better accommodates for distance between machines and cuts down on the usual hitching that delay-based netcode entails. Fighting games have often used delay-based netcode, but in recent years, there's been a surge of rollback: from ports of classics like Garou: Mark of the Wolves to upcoming releases, like Guilty Gear Strive.
So how does Slippi's rollback work for Melee? Well, the results seem promising. High-level pro Leffen posted a video breaking it down, and his impressions are positive. Even with some visual artifacts due to the way rollback works, early players are saying it's much smoother than delay-based, and more importantly, it widens the potential pool of players.
This could be a big boon for Super Smash Bros. Melee, as fighting games-at-large struggle to deal with netcode woes in the wake of health concerns around COVID-19. Evo Online was unveiled as a series of online tournaments and made notable exceptions to the open tournament games, opting to focus on games with solid netcode like Killer Instinct and Them's Fightin' Herds. Even Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was quietly removed from the lineup.
At least for Melee players, it seems like the top level has found a solid method for continuing play and keeping in practice even with social distancing requirements. It may be almost 20 years old at this point, but Melee's third-party netcode is looking more modern than its recent counterparts.