This week’s Killer Insight is a big one. Ricky aka Infil talks to us in depth about his transition from other fighting games to Killer Instinct and how it lead to the creation of one of the community’s biggest resources, the KI Guide.
Tell us a bit about yourself and history within the KI Community?
My first name is Ricky, but I go by Infil (or Infilament) online. Most people involved in KI might know me for my Killer Instinct guide, and a regular poster on the Ultra Combo forums. I live in Calgary, which is in western Canada; you might recognize the city as the location of several Canada Cup events. If you’ve been to any of these Canada Cups, you’ve likely seen me hanging around.
Infil: My most played character is Jago, because I like his relatively simple gameplan, his strong mid-range buttons, excellent anti-air options, and fun instinct fireball combos. But as for overall favorite character in the game, that’s a hard question because I think KI has a higher ratio of interesting characters than any other fighting game I’ve played. Fulgore is always fun to watch because his options seem limitless. Both Hisako and Aganos have satisfying buttons to press and strong aesthetic design. Perhaps my favorite character in the game is Aria, though. The way she has to manage her assist calls and the health of her bodies is just really creative, and she’s really fun to move around the screen.
Favorite KI music track?
Infil: Too many good ones to name. My favorites from Season 1 are Thunder and Jago, and standout tracks from Season 2 are Maya, Omen, Aganos and Cinder. If I had to pick only one, I guess I’d go with Aganos.
What got you into playing Killer Instinct? Did you play the older games?
Infil: I did play both the arcade version and the SNES version of Killer Instinct, although like most people who were my age at the time, there was no serious intent to learn the game. I’ve spent a lot of time in arcades in my life, and I remember seeing KI for the first time and being pretty blown away by the graphics, sound, and overall spectacle of the game. I also distinctly remember somebody doing the Cinder juggle infinite. My most memorable experience with the SNES version was playing it at a large all-nighter party with a dozen friends in my youth group. It was just a massive gaming party with any multiplayer SNES game you could imagine, including Super Mario Kart, NBA Jam, and other fighting games like Street Fighter 2. My enjoyment for fighting games showed even back then, since I spent a good portion of the night beating my friends and thinking the results that came from my button mashing were all intentional.
My experience with the modern Xbox One version of KI is perhaps a little less romantic than others who have had a strong response to seeing the franchise’s revival. Due to Microsoft’s overall tepid media reception for the Xbox One reveal at E3 2013, I was a bit disinterested with the thought of owning a next-generation console on launch day. The announcement of Killer Instinct was very cool, and I actually remember being pretty impressed with the on-stage demonstration at EVO 2013. I thought the graphics and sound were impressive and the gameplay was as excessive as I would expect from a modern reimagining of Killer Instinct. But even so, I was heavily involved in other fighting games at the time and I didn’t follow too much Killer Instinct news. When the Xbox One launched, I read some reviews of the game; most media outlets stated they were impressed by the gameplay, but as any fighting game fan knows, it’s hard to trust mainstream gaming media outlets on their fighting game reviews, so I didn’t pay them a lot of heed.
Fast forward to April 2014, and Fulgore is released as the final Season 1 character. I saw a Fulgore combo video created and posted to Eventhubs by Dreamking23 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSJamcGtP6I) and decided to check it out; I hadn’t seen any KI footage since launch. I’m not entirely sure what it was about this video, but I just thought it looked really cool. I had no idea what was happening in the game, but my curiosity drove me to learn more about the system. I watched whatever system explanations I could find on the game, although the one that did the best job was Maximilian’s KI tutorial videos ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJWMF0N1zcE & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tEVdKjF3tg). I want to encourage other would-be content creators for a second here; keep making content, because you might be surprised how many people you reach! If I hadn’t randomly watched a Fulgore combo video, I may not have ended up involved with KI at all.
After learning about the system as best as I could without owning the game, I tried to track down match footage to study, to get a better sense of how the pace of real matches play out. Like most people looking for footage at this time, I found Mr. Grimmmz’s Youtube channel, where he posted dozens of hours of footage regularly recorded from his Twitch channel. I watched as much of this as I could. There was something about the pace of the game; it was frantic, but still very similar to Street Fighter and felt like something I could fundamentally relate to. The very interesting way that combo breakers impacted the neutral, combos, and the mental state of both players was something I felt was worth exploring within the broader context that KI painted. I eventually caved and picked up an Xbox One around June 2014 so I could try it out for myself. I want to give a special shoutout to Grimmmz and the people he played exciting sets with (FilthieRich and Khoalski to just name a few that come to mind immediately). I was interested in the game, but you guys sold me on it. (Grimmmz, hope you play KI again soon! We miss you!)
Is this your first competitive fighting game? Do you remember a breakthrough moment when you “got” fighting games?
Infil: I have a pretty long history with fighting games before KI. Like most people my age, I enjoyed playing Street Fighter 2, both in arcades and on home console, but I never took the game seriously or understood the game beyond doing cool looking special moves. For me, my journey into competitive fighting games started with Smash Bros Melee in around 2002; it was the first game I liked enough to take seriously. I studied the game’s mechanics, watched as much footage of tournament players as I could find (much tougher in the pre-Youtube days), and grinded the game like crazy with friends and my local Smash scene. I got good enough to either win or do good damage in local and regional events, and I played Melee regularly, at a pretty decent level, until Brawl’s release in 2008. At the same time, there was an arcade at my university with lots of fighting games, and I took a strong liking to 3rd Strike in about 2003 or 2004. It was the first Street Fighter game I tried to learn, and similar to Melee, I studied as much of the game as I could. I watched tons of Japanese footage and all the Socal ranbats they put online; in fact, I still have several DVDs burned with all the match footage I had accumulated. I played 3rd Strike pretty seriously until around 2009, but I still love the game and play it occasionally with friends today. I feel these two games taught me several important lessons: Melee taught me difficult execution, how not to default to bad habits under intense pressure, and the value of strong movement, while 3rd Strike taught me how to use a stick, honed my hit-confirm reactions, and beat into me the value of footsies and spacing.
In 2009, Street Fighter IV came out, and I was pretty interested in learning it from the moment I saw high level play from the Japanese arcades in 2008. I was pretty content to play with some of the friends I met in the 3rd Strike/Melee days; little did I know it would blow up into the worldwide phenomenon it has. Some of my best friends I’ve met by playing SF4, and we had a very strong, vibrant scene in Calgary for many years. You could also say my main “got it” moment was in the first year of my SF4 playing career. It was the first time I really had access to reliable, accurate frame data, and studying it and seeing how it had impact on my play kind of turned me from a “feel” player into a “science” player. Once I practiced enough to feel confident in the SF4 combo system (plink every button, don’t drop your 1 frame links), I started to see fighting games more for what they really are. I could analyze good and bad decisions both my opponent and I were making on a different level than I had in the past, and use that information to impact the outcome of the fight. Over the years, I’ve watched thousands of hours of SF4 matches and played thousands of hours more. I’ve made lifelong friends breaking down SF4 characters, studying matchups, and simply talking about what makes fighting games good and fun, or bad and boring.
Going through the entire SF4 lifecycle and seeing all the ups and downs has been very interesting. I was there defending Vanilla SF4 from the old guard purists who hated many of its decisions (of course, not every decision in Vanilla SF4 ended up being a good one). I watched as Capcom tried different approaches with no fewer than 5 separate SF4 releases, and even more balance patches. I watched old players go and new blood come, enthusiastic that they had found the same joy in fighting games that we all had found many years prior. I watched the entire FGC evolve from a few people in a grungy arcade, playing broken games that none of us really understood that well, to EVO doubling in attendance every year, perfect scientific knowledge of every possible interaction in any SF4 matchup, sponsored pro players, and a major tournament seemingly every weekend that you can watch online for free. It’s been very fascinating for me to watch how players from different FGC eras and different main games have engaged with the concepts of strong top-tier characters, losing because of mashing or randomness, changes to the game over time, and other things. These problems are in all fighting games, but each community handles it differently.
Not counting the games listed above, I’ve also been involved in a few other games a pretty involved level. I played and enjoyed a lot of Street Fighter x Tekken during its run; it was a game that had several faults, but it had several fun and interesting characters and I think the game was treated a little unfairly. I’m a very big fan of Smash Bros Project M; a game with incredibly fun characters and movement, and many more viable characters than Melee, it was basically the updated version of Melee a lot of Smash fans were hoping for, and I still wish it was a main showcase at most Smash events today. I also have somewhere between passing and strong knowledge of several other fighting games, despite not playing them much, including UMvC3, Super Turbo, CvS2, KoF13, and Smash 4, due to friends playing them or their long-standing involvement in major events. It’s accurate to say that fighting games, in some capacity, have been a very big part of my life for almost 15 years now.
How often do you practice? Is it mostly online or offline with friends?
Infil: Because of my history with the genre, I really value a strong offline scene in my fighting games, and most of my local scene was not overly interested in Killer Instinct because they did not own an Xbox One. That’s why I am so excited for the upcoming PC release, because I really feel it will bring KI into the hands of so many people who have been wanting to try it for two years, but weren’t able or willing to invest in a new console for it. Until then, however, most of my practice has been online. Fortunately, KI’s amazing netcode makes this much more painless than it has been for any other fighting game I’ve played. I actually don’t practice that often, sadly… due to some outside factors and the fact that my guide has taken almost all of my available “KI energy”, I don’t play nearly as often as I would like.
How do you feel Killer Instinct compares to the other fighting games you’ve played?
Infil: That’s a really interesting question and there are a couple important ways to approach it. I want to talk about the gameplay first.
I’ve always found the fighting game space incredible interesting to explore, and there are tons of awesome new ideas waiting to be discovered, so to me, no two games should really feel the same to play. If they do, I feel like it’s a wasted opportunity to try something really unique. With all due respect to the old games in the franchise, I like to approach the current KI as if it was a brand new game with brand new ideas. The main design space it explores is “what would a game be like if combos were two-way interactions?” Despite some other games implementing a breaker system of some kind (Guilty Gear’s is baitable and uses a unique gauge, modern Mortal Kombat games tie it to your super meter and it’s not baitable, Smash Bros games let you use directional influence to dodge some follow-up attacks but it can be read or reacted), Killer Instinct is the first modern game to treat (almost) all combos as a mixup.
If we accept this premise as one worth exploring, what implications does it have for the rest of the design? And how does it differentiate itself from other games as a result? The existence of combo breakers I feel necessitates the following things at the very least: more openings and combo opportunities (and, therefore, more potent offense), higher damage output per touch, and weaker, low-reward reversals. As a guiding rule, I believe all these things are very true of KI, and as a nice bonus, these factors almost always tend to add to the fun factor in games where they are present. If combo breaking is suitably risky and difficult (an often discussed point in the KI community, but something I believe the intuition and the math says is true), it means KI is a game where every touch can cost you 50% of your health, even from innocent mid-range pokes that would lead to very little damage in other games.
These are the primary reasons why I feel KI is different and, ultimately, a game worth the FGC’s time. The combo breaker mechanic creates several new mind games not explored in other fighters, and borrows some skills from poker; you need to focus on making the correct long-term decisions and ignore some short term variance. Despite this, the game is incredibly stable, with top players that virtually never lose to amateurs, The game has a much higher damage-per-opening average than a game like SF4; even though combo breakers might cut some opportunities short, if you manage the combo game well, your future openings will more than make up for it. As a result, the game is high-paced, very emotional, and there is never a period longer than 4 seconds where you don’t make a meaningful decision. The potent offense afforded by combo breakers means the game is full of extremely unique characters that are allowed to do things you wouldn’t dream of trying in a traditional Street Fighter game. They have distinct flavors of Marvel, Guilty Gear, and Darkstalkers, and yet somehow, everything still gives a very Street Fighter vibe on the whole. Killer Instinct feels like a combination of games you know and love, and something totally unique at the same time.
As if this answer hasn’t been long enough, I want to quickly touch on another aspect that KI has been different from other fighting games I’ve played, and that’s developer support. Veterans of the FGC know the struggle with past games; they were created and then largely forgotten. While SF4 did see regular updates and developer support with new versions, they only engaged with fans at designated times, often through translators, and rarely explained puzzling design decisions. KI was the first game I played that bucked all these trends. The devs include former players and recognizable members of the FGC, they speak English and actively engage in the community via social media and watching tournament streams, and they will often explain their design and balance rationale for anyone who wants to hear. I’m very happy to see other games like Rising Thunder continue this practice, because it makes it very easy to play and root for these games to succeed. And I would be remiss to not mention KI’s netcode, which is best in class. It’s so good that major KI tournaments are held online without breaking a sweat, and the player base is always growing because you can actually implement strategies meant to work offline into your game while playing online.
You created the awesome Killer Instinct guide to help Street Fighter IV players easily transition to KI. What motivated you to invest that kind of time and put it together?
Infil: I’ve always been interested in making content for the FGC. Back in the SF4 days, I had brainstormed numerous tutorials in my mind that would help beginners understand how to play, but none of them made it past the planning phase just because of the sheer workload required to make a good product. When I was trying to learn how KI worked, I was a little surprised at the lack of content out there to teach beginners the game’s systems; Max’s tutorials were pretty much the only meaningful resource I could find. And because each character is so unique and the combo system is relatively involved, it’s a fairly deep game to learn at first.
One day, right around Season 2’s launch, I was watching streams. Understandably, people who didn’t own KI had heard about the new season and were watching various streams, checking the game out. Most of them had come from other games (SF4, primarily) and they were all asking very similar questions. “How do combo breakers work?” “What does this character’s instinct mode do?” “What the heck is going on right now?” I tried to help answer questions but eventually I realized the need for a resource that could teach people. I decided this was the time I would finally make an honest effort to create content for the FGC, so around the beginning of November 2014 I started working on the guide. My plan was to make the guide I wish I had been able to read when I was learning the game.
I debated between creating a video series on Youtube and a website. Both have their pros and cons, but I feel a video series actually has quite a few more cons than pros. They are impossible to edit after uploading (for an updating game like KI, this is a real challenge), they require a lot of focus to watch, they’re very difficult to “skim” for information, and they also require a lot of work and a particular set of skills to create, which I didn’t really have. But I also didn’t want to create just dry text that nobody could digest. I settled on what I thought was the best of both worlds, a website with short embedded video clips meant to illustrate the surrounding concepts. I experimented with the process of capturing footage from the Xbox One and converting it to video, and I wrote a sample page to test out my idea. It looked pretty promising; the videos brought the page to life and drew your eye to important concepts. I decided to keep going with it.
The first revision of the guide took me at least 7 weeks of hard work, probably 20 hours per week in my spare time. I didn’t just start writing and hope it turned out, I drew up drafts of different ways to separate the information, decided on what I would and would not talk about (for both brevity and my sanity), and decided on a writing style to unify all my pages (I chose to do sort of a casual wiki/academic style of writing). I would write each page with multiple placeholder videos, then decide on the best possible video clips to illustrate a concept in a hard limit of 15 seconds, and spend a few hours shooting, re-shooting, and editing them together. I got some help from local friends who would proofread my pages, telling me if any of it made even the smallest bit of sense.
After almost two months of hard work, constantly forcing myself to keep going despite feeling drained and stressed (I didn’t want yet another project to remain unfinished), I released the first version of my guide right before Christmas 2014. I still didn’t know if it was any good. It *looked* pretty cool… all the videos were dancing on the pages and all the information was pretty cleanly separated, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I could only see the flaws in the site. Some pages weren’t as clear as I had wanted. Some pages lacked video. How many typos or factual mistakes did I make? I also knew next to nobody in the KI scene to share it with, so I didn’t know if anybody would ever read it, or how to promote it. Maybe I could get it posted to Eventhubs and Shoryuken and a few people would check it out, then it would fall off the map, lost in the sea of FGC content. I was really concerned that I had done over 100 hours of work for something that would only reach a few people… I lost a few nights of sleep over it. But I felt internally satisfied that I had at least *finished* something really daunting, and that gave me a bit of inner peace to accept whatever came.
When I finally put the final stamp on the first version, I posted it in the few places I knew, like the official Ultra-Combo.com forums, and I tweeted Keits, the lead combat designer on KI, to check it out. The response was actually pretty overwhelming. Lots of people seemed to like it! They’re just being nice, I thought. You’d have to be pretty mean to tell someone that their guide sucks. I was just waiting for someone to say “I don’t understand anything you wrote” or “everything on this one page is wrong”, but it somehow never really came. Even today, I still can’t really believe the positive reception my guide has received. I’m really, honestly thankful to everyone who has said something nice about it or told a friend to check it out, and I sincerely hope that, as a community, we can use it together to inform people about why KI is so awesome.
My guide has grown a lot since my first revision… in fact, way more than I had anticipated. I started tweaking pages here and there as I learned more about the game’s systems and thought of new ways to better teach a concept. Of course, Season 2 was in full swing at this time, so every month I had to study the character that had just launched and write an in-depth character page for them (my character pages got more and more ambitious as the season went along, and sometimes this took weeks of work). As patches were released, I had to adjust a lot of text (and video) on existing pages as things changed. I started adding fun little visualizations to the character pages, not out of necessity, but because I thought it looked pretty cool. I then went fully insane by dreaming up, and then coding from scratch, a shadow linker break trainer inside your browser (http://ki.infil.net/linkervis.html). With Season 3 around the corner, my guide will need a lot of work to keep it up-to-date, and it comes at a time when many new players will be searching for information due to the PC release. I hope it will continue to help people in the future!
Were there any difficulties in creating the guide that got you stuck?
Infil: I told most of the guide’s story above, but there are really too many to name. I got stuck on pretty much everything at some point. Overall structure of the guide, how to best separate the information, staying motivated when the weight of the guide and my expectations for myself were high, writing character pages for characters I am not skilled with, video editing on some of the more difficult videos, lots of programming complications with the shadow linker break trainer (I received some much needed help from @DrSammyD, a community member with web development expertise, to crack some of these), sticking my neck out and promoting my guide to people who might not care… I struggled with pretty much all of it.
There is actually still one overarching issue with the guide, and that’s the name. I call it “A Killer Instinct Guide for SFIV Players”, and I absolutely wrote many of the initial pages with that audience in mind (if you read my Basics section, you’ll find tons of references to SF4-specific mechanics). But as my guide grew over time, it sort of morphed into this all-purpose guide for learning how to play KI, no matter what fighting game background you have, and I wrote many of the latter pages with the more general audience in mind. Eventually I will have to unify these audiences somehow, especially if SF5 becomes popular and makes the name of my guide a bit obsolete. In fact, I should probably think of a better name for my guide so it doesn’t scare away half the potential audience that would find it useful. It never was a particularly good name in the first place!
Excited for KI World Cup?
Infil: Absolutely! Brandon has selflessly put so much blood, sweat, tears and money into the community, and I’m really looking forward to what he can pull off. I hope the event knocks all expectations out of the park, because Brandon deserves it.
Any advice for upcoming players in Killer Instinct?
Infil: Be quick to look for ways to improve your own play, rather than degrading your opponent’s play, by asking “what could I have done differently to win that match?” Analyzing your own play is a fairly difficult skill at first, but it’s learnable with some practice. Training mode is particularly helpful to test ways to beat any move that you notice hits you a lot. Don’t be afraid to take risks, because every fighting game is about sending messages to your opponent through the use of calculated risks, and KI is no different. Don’t get frustrated when you take a smart risk that doesn’t work out, or your opponent took a seemingly bad risk that did work out; if your ideas are sound, you will win many more matches than you lose. Ask around for help if you have a question, and don’t be afraid to talk to people.
But first and foremost, make friends and have fun, because fighting games are awesome for that.
Also, I really want to encourage players in general, of all games, to keep a positive attitude. No fighting game, past present or future, is flawless. I fully encourage all players to play multiple fighting games, because the genre is so full of interesting experiences, but it pays to know that if you’re expecting another game to contain only things you like and nothing you don’t like, you’ll always find yourself disappointed. The best approach is to find a game you like and make peace with the aspects of it that bug you, because then enjoying everything about it that you love will be so much easier. If that game for you is Killer Instinct, I think you’ll find there’s no better time for the game than now. It’s got new content monthly, developers that care about the game and about interacting with the community, large prize pots for both offline and online events, strong netcode, a diverse, balanced roster of awesome characters, and a new group of players ready to jump in early next year and join the fun.
Are you excited about Season 3? Any characters or features you’d like to see in the game?
Infil: Definitely excited for Season 3! I’m looking forward to seeing what wacky ideas Iron Galaxy can come up with for new S3 characters, as well as what changes they make to the existing game. If they make exciting characters with fun mechanics, that’s all that matters to me. As for features I’d like to see, I have a few dozen in mind, sure… but I think this interview has gone on long enough!
Discuss the interview here: http://forums.killerinstinct.prod.web.msgamestudios.com/t/killer-insight-infil-creator-of-the-ki-guide-for-sfiv-players/3052