Posted by: darthmeanie | August 27, 2010

Playstyle — Expanding Your Options

In this article, I will be building off of a concept I introduced in my previous article on Move Interactions. This time, I’ll be talking about how to make a playstyle with expansive options and tactics.

Our first experiments with playstyle were mostly simple overarching strategies. A camper, a combo-whore, a stage controller, etc. As our movesets grew in complexity however, they started to gain more intricate move interactions and unique ways to approach KOs and ideas. This increased focus on new ideas and details can come at the cost of gameplay though.

What we risk doing is creating a playstyle that flows into itself so directly that it becomes what we sometimes call a ‘flowchart’ playstyle. This is a moveset where there isn’t much thought left up to the player; instead fighting becomes a series of attacks that lead to a desired outcome to affect the playstyle.

The perfect example of this is the ‘combo character who can’t KO’, as Junahu so aptly dubbed it in early MYM5. This was a fairly common playstyle which eliminated tactical depth on two fronts. In the damage racking phase, the character must use specific button combinations to build up damage, and then use a deliberately ineffective kill move as a ‘balancing factor’. While we aren’t apt to make combos anymore; we can still fall prey to what I call the ‘KO Bottleneck’

The KO Bottleneck is what happens when a moveset only one devoted killing move. It’s a concept cemented in the MYM psyche of so called kill moves, so much that we measure knockback almost entirely in what damage percentage someone must be at to be killed by the move. The fact is though, real Brawl movesets may have preferred killing moves, but when we reduce a moveset down to only one way to kill, we’re limiting the possible strategies of the player.

I personally try to make sure that my movesets always have at least three ways to score a kill. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a character even has an easy time scoring KOs though; Harbinger’s only good killing moves were his FThrow, NSpecial, and Abomination Explosion, and they were all notoriously difficult to land properly. Giving three different ways to KO for Harbinger means that a player has three different ways to try to enact a strategy, is less vulnerable to enemies who have particular ways to avoid being killed, and ensures that he’s tactically engaging to play as once he starts heading for a kill.

That’s all well and good for making KO strategy deep, but how do you keep the damage racking game expansive? Unlike getting kills, there’s less room for creativity, isn’t there?

Here, my suggestion is to try to make what I call a ‘layered playstyle’. What makes playstyles devolve into flowcharts so easily is that all of the moves will end up flowing into one specific strategy or concept. So create a new one. Give the character another method of fighting, with moves that support it, and a few that connect it to the other. Rider’s playstyle I describe as passive-aggressive because she can play defensively through use of Bloodfort Andromeda and long ranged spacing, and aggressively through her Chain Toss technique and aggressive gimping. She can also flow through them both, and use techniques from either one to support the other. Dark Bowser created a second tactic by using his cage as a platform to camp from instead of just a torture chamber if he misses with it.

This can mean giving a camping character melee moves that allows him to fight competently up close, or even open up new options that weren’t available before. It can mean giving a character who’s weak at approaching some way to take the fight to a distant enemy or a rushdown character a defensive option. This doesn’t mean eliminating those concepts even; a single idea can’t carry every move in a moveset. Or it can mean coming up with new strategies for the air game or grab game, which often end up getting overlooked with moves that either aren’t useful or are more useful than anything else when you have the opportunity to use them.

Create playstyles that aren’t just interesting to read, but interesting to play as. Leave multiple strong options to a player to allow them to create their own style of play, tactics, and mindgames while maintaining the brilliance of your own playstyle. That is how to expand your playstyle, and it’s how to get new ground on movesets you’re stuck at. Whenever I get stuck in a moveset, it’s generally because I need to generate a new layer to expand my playstyle. Instead of forcing moves that don’t fit in, add a whole new magnitude of depth to your moveset.



  1. Due to the way Smash Bros damage works, I don’t really think it’s necessary to have a lot of moves that can KO early, since if you can’t land the earliest ones you can simply rack up more damage to get more moves into KO range. The problem IMO is that most sets’ ways of being “bad at KOing” is that they just get “lol slow never use this” moves for their KO moves. Melee Fox only really has Usmash and Uair as KO moves but he can combo into them easily, whereas Brawl Ganondorf can KO with everything but he can’t land them so it doesn’t mean shit.

    Regarding giving characters “layered” playstyles, that is generally a good thing to have but it does carry the risk of the opposite extreme of a flowchart: A character who can do everything well and therefore has no real playstyle to speak of. An example of this in Brawl is Meta Knight, who write literally has the best ground game, air game, gimping, recovery, edge game, some good KO stuff, some good grab stuff, and everything else in between. There is no reason to pick any other character for their playstyle, because MK can do that playstyle in addition to everything else.

    Of course, most veteran sets find the happy medium, so I’m just preaching to the choir. (smirk2)

  2. “A character who can do everything well and therefore has no real playstyle to speak of”

    Someone who can do everything equally well is a Jack-of-all-trades character, and that is a Playstyle all in its own, replete with its own potential for entertaining sets.

  3. Meh, all-around characters are kinda difficult to design in Smash where characters don’t have a huge amount of inputs, so they either end up with a bunch of half-assed sub-playstyles that each get a few moves, or all their moves are god-tier spammable things for every situation, making them into Meta Knight or Melee top tier. In Brawl all the high/top characters not named Meta Knight actually focus the majority of their moves into a certain style then use the rest for “backup scenarios”.

    Street Fighter and Guilty Gear have great all-arounder characters because they can give them enough moves to fit all their sub-styles without becoming flat upgrades of more specialized characters.

    Though if an all-rounder character is made in MYM/Smash and is well balanced I’ll be glad to see it (chew)

  4. A well-rounded character depends on how you do it.

    I consider Magmortar well-rounded, as he can gimp, kill, build damage, trap, mindgames, projectiles, and has stage control and decent melee combat as well.

    However, it requires forethought and strategy to make use of everything he’s capable of, and he has weaknesses such as being easy to combo and horrendously slow at close range.

    So I’d say that a character that can do a multitude of things well CAN be bad if you don’t approach it correctly, well-roundedness does not a mediocre playstyle make.

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